Thoroughly engaging, immensely poignant, and remarkably evocative, Call Me By Your Name functions as both a coming-of-age tale and a love story, likely to surprise viewers as to where it travels on both accounts.
Based on the novel by Andre Aciman, and co-penned for the screen by director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash), James Ivory (director of such Award-winning productions as A Room With A View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day) and editor Walter Fasano, this lush and intense drama tells of 17 year-old Elio (Timothee Chalamet), a curious young man who is in the midst of his first sexual affair with a visiting girl friend during the summer of 1983 Italy.
As comfortable as he is, it’s the arrival of older 20-something American visitor Oliver (Armie Hammer), an academic called to assist Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) on an archaeological project, that particularly takes his interest, shaking up his views on sexuality and personal attraction in the process.
With a casual demeanour that charms Elio’s parents but rubs the young man the wrong way, Oliver initially earns a cold reception from Elio, something Oliver senses and returns in his own effortless manner. When Oliver appears to be enjoying the company of multiple local females, Elio can’t help but have his interest piqued, and it’s through their misinterpretations of each other that they acknowledge their feelings for one another.
Though their relationship dominates the majority of the second half of the feature, Call Me By Your Name never feels like a “gay romance movie”, instead presenting itself as a film that celebrates love and sexuality, whoever it happens to be between. As to be expected Call Me By Your Name lives and dies on the chemistry between Hammer and Chalamet, and the two are simply electric together. At once certain yet unsure of themselves and each other, neither has complete control of the relationship, and it plays in the film’s favour that, despite appearing the more experienced, Hammer’s Oliver emerges as perhaps the more vulnerable partner; on the mention of Hammer, the actor has never been as good as he is here, exuding a charisma that is intoxicating to witness.
Given Guadagnino’s penchant for lush European settings, it’s unsurprising at how utterly gorgeous this film is to look at, not to mention the 1980’s period setting allowing some choice soundtrack cuts, most notably The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way“, to provide an additive to the film’s erotic nature; offsetting this is musician Sufjan Stevens‘ original song contributions which play into the film’s fairytale-like mentality.
Continuing the significance of mainstream cinema embracing films with gay themes that began with Moonlight earlier this year, Call Me By Your Name, though likely to resonate stronger with gay viewers, is a near-flawless picture that celebrates the universality of love.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Call Me By Your Name screened as part of Sydney Film Festival, where it was reviewed.