1987, somewhere in Northern Italy, a young man is about to come of age. Like most 17-year-old boys, the boredom of day-in, day-out routine is about to be replaced by something new, something extraordinary. Sex, naturally. And like the multitudes that have come before, this newfound energy will consume every aspect of his being, transforming everything around him into one giant erotic extension.
He is Elio (Timothée Chalamet, outstanding), a teenage pianist who spends most of his days listening, transcribing, and practicing music—he favors interpretation over faithful recreation. Enter Oliver (Armie Hammer, never better), a 24-year-old American doctoral student who is too good-looking for his own good and too goofy for his good looks.
Oliver has come to Italy to assist Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a noted Greco-Roman scholar, in his research. And while Oliver studies Hellenistic sculptures, Elio studies Oliver: his chiseled physique, his distinctly American attitude, and plenty more. Lucky for Elio, Oliver reciprocates with a playful touch and a few well-placed glances that drive the point home.
Northern Italy in the summer is hot, sweltering hot, and the residents of this dreamy villa walk around with barely a stitch on. Windows and doors are always open, and there is a sense that just about anything or anyone could blow in. Enter Mariza (Esther Garrel); she’s Elio’s age and just as sexually inexperienced as he, but the season is ripe for discovery, and flirtation gives way to fornication, hot, sweaty, and brief, under the summer moon.
And though he enjoys Mariza and her body, Elio still has eyes for Oliver. The two dance around the obvious before giving in to their desires. It is Elio’s first time with a man, and it unlocks something in him—something primordial. Much like the vibrant Liszt interpretations of Bach that he favors, Elio’s sexual energy drives him to mania, like an itch he can never quite reach. There is nothing pent up about it. There is just more of it than Elio, or any young man, knows what to do with it.
Wonderfully sensual and delightfully energetic, Call Me By Your Name is the final installment in director Luca Guadagnino’s unofficial “desire trilogy.” His previous installment, A Bigger Splash, is just as sexy but a tad messier. Those characters show what a lifetime of sexual repression, and sexual indulgence, can amount to.
Though A Bigger Splash is an outstanding film, something is missing. That something is tenderness and compassion, which can be found all over Call Me By Your Name. Be it the simple way Elio watches Oliver dance to The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” how Elio scribbles notes to leave on Oliver’s bed, or a fatherly speech, unlike any speech a father has given—in real life or in the movies.
Call Me By Your Name is beautiful, wonderful, and as warm and life-affirming as the summer sun streaming through the trees at the breakfast table. You just want to sit here one minute longer and bask in its ineffable beauty.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Written by James Ivory
Based on the novel by André Aciman
Produced by Emilie Georges, Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, Marco Morabito, Howard Rosenman, Peter Spears, Rodrigo Teixeira
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Esther Garrel, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
Sony Pictures Classics, Rated R, Running time 132 minutes, Premiered Jan. 22, 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival.