Film Review: Call Me by Your Name (2017)
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Review by: Belle McIntyre
This is the final piece of Luca Guadagnino’s Desire Trilogy. The first two were I Am Love followed by A Bigger Splash. All filmed on gorgeous Italian locations with terrific actors, including Tilda Swinton in the first two, and all remarkable in very different ways. This one is more akin to I Am Love in its languorous pacing and swooning camerawork which lavishes attention on the locations. However, to my mind, this is the best for a number of reasons. The languor is more organic and has more purpose. The characters here are better developed, more believable, and incredibly appealing. And the story is superb and well told. My initial skepticism was misplaced and immediately eradicated and I was richly rewarded.
Based on a novel by André Aciman with a screenplay by James Ivory, this story takes place in the summer of 1983 in a beautiful northern Italian village where Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlberg), his Italian wife Annella (Amira Casar) and their 17 year-old son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) spend the summers in their 17th century villa. This is not your average family by any stretch. These are highly educated academics, intellectually sophisticated and extremely cultured. They are also warmly inclusive and affectionate towards one another and fantastically liberal. The eminent Professor Perlman’s field is Greco-Roman culture. Annella is a multi-lingual translator, while Elio transcribes classical music. Their conversation is nearly always on a rarified and elevated level. This would be a highly coveted place to spend time. The drama begins with the arrival of Dr. Perlman’s annual intern for six weeks.
Elio is just settling in for an idyllic summer hanging out and doing whatever he chooses as an adolescent teenager. He has a choice of girlfriends he has known from prior summers, and parents who are blissfully liberal about his comings and goings and with whom he spends time.
Everything is turned on it’s head when this summer’s intern arrives in the form of the tall, blond, handsome and preternaturally confident American, Oliver (Armie Hammer). So comfortable is he in his skin that he seems largely unaware of his affect and feels no qualms about correcting Professor Perlman on linguistic derivations. He easily charms the family and the townspeople while sweeping the local females off their feet.
He fails to notice the rapt attention of Elio who observes him initially with resentment which morphs into a confusing mixture of envy, admiration and yearning. Once Oliver begins to pay attention to Elio, and includes him in some of his activities, a friendship develops. It is a confusing time for the adolescent Elio. He is experiencing raging hormones and exploring sex with Marzia (Esther Garrell), a local girl, who is a bit more experienced . But it is Oliver who holds Elio in his thrall. He is doggedly and adorably persistent and ultimately overcomes Oliver’s genuine attempts to keep things platonic and above reproach. But once things change between them it becomes a mutually heartfelt relationship which develops. There is no hint of advantage-taking or victimization or shame. It is a beautiful thing to watch unfolding in its joyful innocence.
What lifts this story out of the ordinary is the non-judgmental acceptance of what has happened by everyone involved. In particular the beautiful words of Dr. Perlman to Elio acknowledging his cognizance of the affair and trying to help Elio to process the experience in the most positive and life-affirming terms. It is simply breathtaking. It is not really about homosexuality. It is about fearlessly honoring a depth of feelings. I believe it speaks eloquently to everyone.