“Call Me By Your Name” Movie Review


     Once in a while, a film comes along which distinguishes itself in a way that makes it a truly original and thought provoking experience.  What’s normal and what’s not in our society will always be up to one’s own interpretation, but acceptance is the one virtue that can help heal our  often fractured and divided existence in so many positive ways.  Director Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name” is a film that will take you along a path that, regardless of your sexuality, is certain to seem familiar, given we all fall in love in much the same way and for similar reasons.  Based on the 2007 novel by Andre Aciman and adapted for the screen by James Ivory, the film explores the budding relationship between a young research assistant and the seventeen year old son of the professor hosting him during the early 1980s in Italy.  Gorgeously shot and featuring standout performances by Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, and Michael Stuhlbarg, “Call Me By Your Name” is a film that has those rare transcendent qualities which can shape the way we think about love and relationships moving forward.

     Guadagnino takes full advantage of his country’s beautiful landscapes, hill sides, and unique architecture, providing the setting of a story where a great deal of each act takes place outdoors.  Here, everyone seems to get around shirtless with shorts and deck shoes, as they traverse the scenery via bicycle and explore their colorful surroundings.  And these places are almost completely devoid of technology at the time, save for the occasional appearance of a small tube television or a transistor radio, as the characters pass the time during the summer by reading books, swimming in nearby lakes, playing cards at a local watering hole, or eating outside with their families.  Is it any wonder the kids of today are suddenly embracing the 80s as being cool?  Maybe it’s time parents started letting their kids out of the virtual prisons we’ve created for them.

     Mr. Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a European college professor who hosts a research assistant each summer to both help further his own work, as well as to give up and coming students the experiences they will need to succeed in their own endeavors.  He and his wife, Annella (Amira Casar), live in a sprawling home somewhere within the Italian countryside and within biking distance of a small town.  The couple seems to have taken a leadership role within their community, setting the example for the kind of gracious hospitality that seems commonplace amongst the various characters in the film.  They have raised a son, Elio (Timothee Chalamet), who at seventeen years old has reached the stage in his life where exploration with the opposite sex is clearly budding into a primary focus.  He doesn't seem to have the ambition of his father, nor is he lazy in any way.  Elio seems to be the product of his environment, and the academic nature of his family.  He is constantly reading books or playing Bach on the piano, but he also is always moving and taking full advantage of the wondrous surroundings he has grown up in.

     This summer’s research assistant is a 24 year old American named Oliver (Armie Hammer), who arrives with all of the fish out of water mannerisms you would think of when considering he comes from a different culture all together.  He is brought to the room he will be staying in by Elio and immediately makes an impression on the youngster as being arrogant with the way he seemingly dismisses the loving and attentive routines of the family.  Oliver, when not working with Mr. Perlman, disappears at night, often not staying for supper and presumably putting himself within the company of the many females nearby who have taken a liking to him.  Elio observes this, and though he won’t admit it, he seems to want to be Oliver, as if to in some way mimic the way he successfully carries himself with the people around him.

     But what may have started as mentorship by someone not much older who is achieving the kind of life he believes he wants, soon begins to become something more.  Oliver and Elio spend a lot of time together, sometimes through events created by the family, but also alone as a result of suggestion coming from both of them in different ways.  They create these situations because there is something driving them to be together.  Perhaps Elio doesn't know exactly why yet, but Oliver, being older and significantly more experienced, is fully aware of the feelings both are exhibiting towards each other.  The only question is whether or not to act on the impulses each is feeling as they begin to grow closer with the summer winding down.

     Aside from the awards worthy turns by Chalamet and Hammer in the lead roles, the work of Stuhlbarg, who has more than made his mark this awards season while also appearing in “The Post” and “The Shape of Water”, anchors the story, particularly from a much needed emotional level.  Ultimately, this is about someone’s first love, a feeling which at the age of 17, Elio is not likely to have a firm grasp on.  When he clearly struggles with these feelings, it’s his father who delivers some of the most heartfelt and important words you may ever hear in a film.  His performance is the sheer definition of the supporting role and provides the kind of emotional gravitas that is crucial for a story like this to be brought to a realistic conclusion.  

     Most notably, “Call Me By Your Name” is a master’s work in character study.  The manner in which Ivory’s script and Guadagnino’s vision come together on screen is a marvel to observe, as they effectively communicate the deep down feelings both Elio and Oliver have without rushing to what the audience will likely expect if they view the film having already read a synopsis or seen the trailer.  It’s a love story first and foremost, taking us through the beginning phases all the way to the point where both characters know there is something real between them.  Feeling that can’t be ignored.  And they proceed exactly as any couple would.  GRADE: A