Everyone remembers their first devastating love affair, right? It’s a love that comes once in a lifetime – if at all. The fluttering butterflies in the belly. The burning intensity. The spark that ignites the passionate fire from within. The radiating tingle that spreads throughout your body when your paramour so much as glimpses your way. And the crippling self-doubt that eclipses everything before giving way to assured confidence once reciprocal signs manifest. Imagine a love so powerful, it influences every relationship (platonic, familial and whatnot) in its wake. While many of us have not had a poignant tryst like the one showcased in director Luca Guadagnino’s CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, there’s a universality to all of the feels. Adapted from Andre Aciman’s novel by screenwriter James Ivory, this gorgeous coming-of-age story is an aching, haunting summer love that fills your heart with love, then rips it out. And true to that summer love feeling, it’s hard to shake this one. This film is as remarkable as BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR.
The summer of 1983 is shaping up like all the others seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) has spent basking in the warm Northern Italian sun on his family’s estate. He lazes about the villa, transcribing and playing music as his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) and translator mother (Amira Casar) work. Everything is as it should be. That is until his father’s twenty-four-year-old apprentice, Oliver (Armie Hammer), arrives, threatening to shake things up. The handsome, albeit smug intern awakens romantic feelings inside the teen. Elio tries to stifle it, striking up a relationship with friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). But this unbridled, uncontrollable desire alters the course of both of their lives.
Eroticism is scorching hot – perhaps because there’s so much earned emotion behind the characters’ overt and hidden sexual desires. It begins with the softest, most innocuous of bare-skinned touches, leading to the most perfect of tender kisses in summertime haze, and culminating in loving with abandon. Their pent-up frustrations become ours as we root for them to succumb to their passions. Guadagnino never errs on the salacious side of their embraces; rather, he effuses Elio’s memories with a loving, respectful gauzy gleam. There’s a scene that could double as his arthouse answer to AMERICAN PIE, but with a peach instead of an apple pie. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s sparkling, sunlit cinematography aids in the transportive, timeless feel of the narrative. Much like how ABOUT A BOY seamlessly interwove Badly Drawn Boy’s original songs into the narrative, here Guadagnino utilizes Sufjan Stevens’ songs to augment Elio’s voice, providing a poetic soundscape in which we connect. And it will be impossible not to clutch your heart in public if you hear The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way.”
Hammer and Chalamet do career-defining work. Each take to their characters’ foibles like a second skin. The audience can identify where both are coming from at any given point – Elio in his naive lusts and Oliver in his cautious realism for the time. Months later, my heart still is left hanging on the film’s final close-up held on Elio’s face. No disrespect to those who worked on this masterpiece, but it’s unlikely you’ll actually notice the end credits as they scroll by. You’ll be far too captivated by Chalamet’s emotive drive to pry your eyes away. Plus, Stuhlbarg gives a tremendous performance as Elio’s wildly intelligent, supportive father. He threatens to run away with the entire film with a speech filled with unconditional love, compassion, empathy, enlightenment and understanding. These five minutes alone will render you heartbroken and in a puddle of tears. It’ll leave you radiating. He’s the Dad everyone should want to have when life presents its struggles.
Like most first loves, Guadagnino’s incandescent masterpiece imparts a distinct sting on your soul – one that’s inescapable and all-encompassing.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME opens in limited release on November 24.