It’s a lazy summer somewhere in northern Italy. The year is 1983, and Elio (Timothée Chalamet) a seventeen-year-old musical prodigy lounges about his house, spending his time transcribing music or reading German poetry with his university professor parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar). Every year, though, his parents take in a graduate student for the summer, and much to Elio’s chagrin, in walks Oliver (Armie Hammer), the “usurper,” as Elio calls him. What initially begins as a contentious relationship between the two, Elio and Oliver bond over shared interests, sunbathing out by the pool, riding their bikes into town together.
To draw upon the specific plot devices of Luca Guadagnino’s latest work would be doing the film a great disservice, because Call Me by Your Name is, if nothing else, a deeply personal experience. Spaced throughout the entirety of the summer of ’83, the film, much like a summer in Italy, takes its sweet time to tell an age-old story about unrequited love and the lengths we go to in order to suppress or express those feelings. James Ivory’s screenplay weaves a tale that seems to meander at first, only to have been following a fascinating trajectory all along.
Having premiered at Sundance almost one year ago, it would be difficult to avoid a discussion of filmmaking in 2017 without addressing the complexities present in Call Me by Your Name. It is hard to avoid chatter about the story of two men falling in love over the span of a summer - one being a seventeen-year-old, and the other being twenty-four. In another year’s time, the “infamous” peach scene will have been talked about ad nauseam. But those are just details in a larger picture that is simply about encountering lust, perhaps love, and the desire to want more. Elio and Oliver’s story is surely specific to the time period, but what is so rich about Guadagnino’s film is the way in which he crafts a love story that feels eerily relatable to real life.
In any classic romance, we witness grand, sweeping gestures - proving one's devotion through daring acts. Call Me by Your Name is miraculous in the way in depicts young love, because most of it is not about what is said, but what is unspoken. Elio and Oliver express their attraction to one another through tiny acts; it is the smallest touch on the shoulder, unsustained eye contact, the glimmer of a smile that only they share. Indeed, this story is as light and delicate as a feather floating in the breeze. Blink and you might miss it, but if you are lucky enough to see it, it will surely strike a chord in you that you never knew existed.
Such a swirling sensation of emotions would not be possible were it not for the the impeccable chemistry from Chalamet and Hammer. Although the characters in the film (as well as the actors themselves) have drastic age differences -- a facet of the film that feels unique on its own -- they feel oddly in sync with one another; it is almost as if we are intruding on these characters' private lives. Hammer, giving an assured and effortless performance, casts a dizzying spell over Elio that is hard to break out of. He is not only charming and attractive, but intelligent and deeply empathetic. This is matched perfectly to Chalamet's astonishing turn as a teenager who seems to have never experienced a lust or a love so engrossing that nothing else seems to matter. Simultaneously, though, he comes across as wise beyond his years. But as the film gradually reaches its conclusion, we come to learn that even the most brilliant of minds will fall prey to the enigmatic nature of love.
Much has already been written about Call Me by Your Name. It has been picked apart by critics and Twitter users alike -- it feels practically futile to be adding my two cents on a film whose discourse began so long ago. That said, this slow moving, quiet love story hit me in a way that many films this year did not. It put into words and actions these feelings that had remained dormant in me for so long. This brief snapshot into Elio's -- and however briefly, Oliver's -- life captured a moment so eloquently. Through these tiny moments and perhaps even the impracticality of a future they know can never have, Call Me by Your Name is a film steeped in love and steeped in passion. To even classify it as a "gay love story" would be discrediting just how timely and timeless this story is. True, the film basks in its characters' fluid sexualities, and even embraces them in a way that feels celebratory of queer love stories. When all is said and done, however, this is simply a story of love, of deep emotion, and of the moments -- grand or otherwise -- that will inevitably shape who we are and who we will become.