Is it better to speak or die?
It is the summer of 1983 in northern Italy and precocious 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), son of an American archaeology professor (Michael Stuhlbarg), is hanging out at the family’s 17th-century villa when the arrival of handsome doctoral student Oliver (Armie Hammer) disrupts his repose and stirs unexpected emotions.
A sensual coming-of-age story capturing the hesitancy and longing of first love, Call Me By Your Name forms the final instalment in a ‘trilogy of desire’ by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, following I Am Love and A Bigger Splash. Those earlier films were tales of smouldering passion set in privileged and rarefied worlds (moneyed Italian aristocracy in the case of I Am Love; rock aristocracy in A Bigger Splash). And Call Me By Your Name is very much the same.
Elio’s family is ostentatiously cultured. He himself switches effortlessly between English, Italian and French, and is a gifted musician who can improvise on Bach melodies in the style of Liszt and Busoni on the piano without dropping a sweat. However, Hammer’s newcomer isn’t the least overawed. Oozing alpha male assurance, he corrects his host on the etymology of ‘apricot’ and is every bit as buff as the ancient bronze statue of a boxer retrieved in one scene from the waters of Lake Garda.
And it isn’t only the local girls who are left swooning. Elio, too, falls under his spell as the summer unfolds with dreamy languor.
Generosity and wisdom.
Guadagnino takes his time in developing his protagonists’ romance. Yet Chalamet and Hammer’s febrile chemistry keeps us enthralled. Surprisingly, given how hyper-articulate everyone is, the duo’s most potent scenes are wordless, conveying a wealth of emotion in glances and gestures.
It is Stuhlbarg’s father, however, who delivers the film’s most powerful scene, an eloquent speech to his heartstruck son that brims over with generosity and wisdom.
The screenplay, adapted by James Ivory of Merchant-Ivory renown from a novel by acclaimed Proust scholar André Aciman, won an Oscar, and the film also picked up nominations for Best Film, Best Actor (Chalamet) and Best Original Song (Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Mystery of Love’).
Certificate 15. Runtime 132 mins. Director Luca Guadagnino
Available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital from Sony Pictures.