Feeling is Believing in "Call Me By Your Name"
The biggest compliment that can be directed towards "Call Me By Your Name" is also the simplest one: for 130 minutes, watching viewers don’t just witness a 17-year-old boy become infatuated with his father’s charming new assistant, nor understand it; they feel as though they’re in the exact same situation themselves. Of course, relating a love story, including romances seething with uncertainty, is both a common and easy task. Making the corresponding sentiments radiate from the screen, infecting everyone bearing witness in a strong and profound manner, is much more rare and difficult.
In Luca Guadagnino’s summer loving-focused coming-of-age effort, desire shines as brightly as the honeyed beams streaming down from the sun above. Indeed, as the intellectually mature, sexually curious Elio (Timothée Chalamet) falls for the handsome, older Oliver (Armie Hammer), it’s his guiding motivation. The teen and the twenty-something share adjacent bedrooms, pal and cycle around, take dips to escape the blazing temperature, enjoy lengthy meals, and follow the path their feelings dictate in the process. It’s 1983, they’re in Italy in a country house with an orchard, the days are long, and the weather is sweatily, tauntingly warm — and, their connection is instantaneous, as is the audience’s with their story.
Within the movie’s narrative — as adapted from André Aciman’s 2009 novel of the same name by Guadagnino, his regular collaborator and Call Me By Your Name’s editor Walter Fasano, and filmmaker James Ivory of Merchant Ivory fame — little more of importance occurs, plot-wise; however action isn’t the name of the game, yearning is. As Elio tries to come to terms with his attraction for Oliver, he first channels his urges into a relationship with local girl (Esther Garrel). Oliver works with Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), while largely seeming to bide his time. They each might be struggling with different levels of inner turmoil, but they both also know what’s likely to eventuate.
With I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, the two most recent fictional features on his resume, Guadagnino boasts a strong track record of convincingly conveying lust, longing and their accompanying complexities — and convincingly adds to it here. Call Me By Your Name oozes seduction at every turn, expressing things that its characters can’t always say, and also ensuring that the viewer experiences the same sensations. Noticing a lingering pat on the shoulders, loitering over shirtless torsos glistening in the heat, and pausing to give more than a moment to stolen glances all establish and convey the requisite sensual mood.
While the sun-dappled feature journeys back more than three decades, it’s not nostalgia that inspires the audience’s bond with the material — it’s the vibrancy and urgency loaded into Guadagnino’s take on the central tale. Call Me By Your Name offers a soulful and sincere depiction of wanting, seeking and finding that first flourish of youthful love that leaps from the frame, though achieving that immediacy and empathy is a result of many helping hands. Hammer proves the best he’s ever been, and Stuhlbarg benefits from one memorable and sensitive late scene, but it’s the astonishing young Chalamet that truly transports every look, mood, wish and need far beyond Elio and into viewing, feeling and believing hearts and minds.