I write this review as the Beast From The East and Storm Emma slowly melt away, and Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino waits to see if his biggest critical success to date will win one of its four Academy Award nominations. If, like me, you’re searching for some long-awaited sunshine, CMBYN is the film for you, and even if you’re more of a fan of our recent cold snap, watch it anyway. Don’t miss out on this.
Northern Italy, 1983. Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17 year old musician, is spending the summer with his family in their holiday villa, trying to keep himself entertained and out of trouble. When he’s not transcribing classical symphonies from his Walkman, he’s reading, eating, or flirting with local girls. That is, until the ‘attractive American’, Oliver (Armie Hammer), arrives to stay, assisting Elio’s researcher father (Michael Stuhlbarg) with his studies. Elio soon writes off Oliver as a show-off, with his athlete’s body, good looks, and unquestionable intellect. Does Elio see Oliver as competition?
After several terse conversations and a lot of cold-shouldering, Elio and Oliver call a truce, agreeing to be friends. But as the pair start to spend more time together, it’s clear that neither of them have ‘just friends’ in mind. As the summer’s heat intensifies, so do their interactions, but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
Adapted from the André Aciman novel of the same name, this is a story about first love, sexuality, heartbreak, and acceptance, and it’s told so beautifully it’s hard to divert your eyes. Set in the stunning Italian hills and countryside, Guadagnino lets the narrative and its characters play out amongst the peach trees, stealing glances and kisses, hoping not to get caught.
Hammer as Oliver is the epitome of the attractive American – tall, handsome, dashing. He’s clever, witty, and a hit with everyone he meets, local girls included. When he takes to the dancefloor in a scene which has done the rounds on social media, he’s confident and carefree, while Elio spends his time smoking on the sidelines, watching Oliver’s body gyrate, feet barely touching the dancefloor. Chalamet as Elio is the typical teenager, no matter the decade – quiet, moody, rebellious, curious. He’s fascinated by Oliver, stuck somewhere between wanting to be him and wanting to be with him, and when he falls he falls hard and fast. There’s an intensity between the pair that radiates from the screen from the moment they meet, still palpable when they apparently dislike each other, making the inevitable conclusion of their relationship even more heartbreaking still.
Such strong performances, with one being from someone so young (and who is, quite deservedly, Oscar nominated), partnered with gentle direction from Guadagnino, lets you become absorbed in the world created. You’re placed in the village square, the sun beating down on you, watching Oliver and Elio get to know each other, grabbing a drink, cycling home. You’re there as their relationship blossoms; skin on skin, gentle kisses in the dark. And you’re there as the summer fades, and Elio has to come to terms with the reality of his situation.
Call Me By Your Name is a not only a triumph for LGBTQ+ cinema, it’s a triumph full stop. A gorgeous, joyous story everyone can relate to; we’ve all been Elio at some point. Stunning cinema that deserves to win big.