To say a film seems effortlessly beautiful feels like a backhanded compliment, but that’s exactly how Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name strikes you. Set in the Italian summer of 1983, the breeze and beauty of the season emanates from the screen. The lazy days and the naturalistic performances of the cast make this feel like a lived-in world, one captured, not built. Much like 2015’s Carol or 2016’s The Handmaiden, the past feels like it is still breathing and a place we can visit, to walk where the characters have, and to feel what they have felt.
The other obvious connection this movie has with those two referenced is that it is an expressive and complex portrayal of gay romance. Timothee Chamolet’s Elio is seventeen, approaching adulthood with the assured appearance of a seventeen-year-old and the inner terror of a seventeen-year-old. His family’s Lombardy villa welcomes archaeology students every summer to assist Timothee’s father (the always exceptional Michael Stuhlbarg), and this summer the assistant is Armie Hammer’s charming, gorgeous Oliver. At first Oliver irritates Elio – the American’s easy-going nature seeming like an insult to the family – yet, inevitably, that dislike turns to something more. The two hours we spend with the family and their friends are intoxicating, as we experience with them what it’s like to have love, to lose love, to be comfortable, to be anxious, to know who you aren’t, and to fear who you are.
The story is simple, a tale old as time of lovers uncertain of what to do: early in the film Elio’s mother reads a German fairy tale where a knight must decide whether he “should speak or die” regarding his love for the princess (for it is always a princess). Guadagnino is openly asking the viewer to consider the movie’s central tenet: would you live as you know you want to, or as you know is easy? The question haunts everyone in the frame, from Elio, growing up uncertain of his sexuality in an unaccommodating world, to Oliver, attempting to understand and repress himself, and Timothee’s father, who delivers his answer in a show-stealing speech, one which will almost certainly be shown in the Best Supporting Actor nominees montage at this year’s Oscars.
The lazy days and naturalistic performances make this feel like a lived-in world, one captured, not built
When it first premiered at the New York Film Festival over the summer, Call Me By Your Name received the longest standing ovation in the festival’s history, and it is destined for accolades this award season. Yet to merely talk of this as the equivalent of a racehorse is to not give full justice to the artistry on display: Guadagnino has crafted a masterwork, destined to be a classic of romantic cinema and comfortably one of the best movies of the year.