Call Me by Your Name; Rated R; 130 min
Northern Italy. The year is 1983. It’s summer, but a summer that embraces you with its softness, the light incandescent, the lushness of the foliage irresistible. There are lakes and rivers and a small swimming pool behind a 17th-century villa, home to Elio (Timothee Chalamet), a precocious 17-year-old and his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an archeologist, and mother (Amira Casar), a translator of foreign language texts.
Every summer, his father brings to the villa a graduate assistant to help him catalogue his research. This summer, the grad student is Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American, who is tall, lanky, his insouciance worn without effort.
Initially, Elio decides he is put off by this American, whose signature farewell is “later.” He wages an internal struggle against Oliver’s charisma and refuses to play host or tour guide, though he finds himself doing both.
When he is not transcribing music, reading, or playing the piano, Elio spends time with his girlfriend, Marzia (Esther Garrel), to whom he is physically drawn. He knows little of love but moves closer and closer to Marzia, both eager to experiment.
But then he begins to find that his resistance to Oliver’s magnetism is crumbling, and he acknowledges that he is attracted to him as well and wants to be in his presence.
And so it soon becomes clear that “Call Me by Your Name” is a complex narrative that has at its center a torturing sense of ambivalence. It is to be sure a coming-of-age story, one in which Elio suffers with his inability to sort out who he is, all the while struggling with emotions that torment and overwhelm him.
But he begins to find Oliver irresistible, as if he possesses his own orbit of gravity, and Elio is, against his will, pulled ever closer. Although he finally yields to his own sensual desires, encouraged by Oliver, who also conveys his own hesitancy. There is a quality to this film that is both subtle and nuanced yet inevitable and it gradually crafts an unexpected beauty.
“Call Me by Your Name” is also deeply human. A story of first love, of two individuals creating a connection that while physical and deeply sensual is far more. Mirroring their surroundings, there is something stunningly gorgeous about their relationship yet silent and encompassing.
Even the dialogue is crafted in such a way that its brevity, its clipped sentences delivered absent histrionics or even a raised voice, all convey far more than expected.
The film, while intense, is also possessed of an abiding calm, as if it is a flower that is simply allowed to open and reveal it beauty.
Act three is, for Elio, deeply painful as he stands on a train station platform and waves goodbye to Oliver. He is heartbroken and calls his mother, asking her to come and pick him up. At home he sits with his father who delivers a monologue that is stunning in its kindness and understanding and to you, the viewer, I’m giving you fair warning to anticipate it. I simply ask that you listen carefully. The language is lovely, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read or heard regarding a conversation between father and son. And it’s followed by a tight shot of Elio that while wordless conveys volumes.
Don’t let "Call Me by Your Name" slip away. View it, enjoy it, allow the images (photographed by D.P. Sayombho Mukdeeprom) to surround you. They are intoxicating, as are the understated performances of what proves to be an astonishing ensemble led by Chalamet and Hammer, who are both superb.