Call Me By Your Name review – a peach of a romance

Timothée Chalamet is superb in a sensuous gay love story set in Lombardy

There is a moment just before a teenage crush bursts its dam and becomes a fully fledged first love. It’s a moment in which time is briefly suspended; it’s that shiver of uncertainty before you dive over the edge of the waterfall into the kind of love you could drown in. It’s this – the exquisite torture of not knowing if feelings are reciprocated followed by the helpless flood of emotions – that is captured so intensely and urgently in this gorgeous work of yearning. Director Luca Guadagnino has a gift for romance.

This adaptation of the novel of the same name by André Aciman, penned by James Ivory, forms the concluding part of Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy, following I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015). Of the two, the new film has far more in common with the lush, luxuriant sensuality of the former than the crackling comedy and riotous misbehaviour of the latter.

Both Call Me By Your Name and I Am Love explore the dance between two people who are uncontrollably attracted to each other. In this case, it is Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the precociously cultured 17-year-old son of an archaeology professor (Michael Stuhlbarg), and Oliver (Armie Hammer), the emphatically confident American graduate student interning with the professor and his family at their Bertoluccian summer home in Lombardy. It’s uncharted territory for both. They posture and pose for each other, shirtless and sun-kissed, but there’s an uncertainty that makes both hold back. For a while at least.

In the meantime, Guadagnino fills the frame with images that are fairly throbbing with symbolic resonance. The boys’ two bicycles leaning against a wall, intertwined, one handle bar hooked through the frame of the other. The camera lingers on ripe fruit of the villa’s orchard – peaches figure prominently, and creatively. Cigarettes are passed, with offhand intimacy, from lips to lips.

Watch a trailer for Call Me By Your Name.

Having evocatively used excerpts of John Adams’s The Chairman Dances in I Am Love, Guadagnino once again marries music to the movie with an instinctive eloquence. In an acknowledgment of the teenage central character – Elio is a gifted multi-instrumentalist – piano features heavily. There’s a hopeful rippling motif, which swirls and eddies like Elio’s adolescent hormones. The film’s setting, in 1983, also makes its presence known, in the form of a few endearingly cheesy period pop songs. Most potent are the wistful original compositions by Sufjan Stevens, played on heartstrings and angst, which give the emotional trajectory of the story a stinging rawness.

But for all the confidence of the film-making, the thing that really elevates this picture to one of the very best of the year is the exceptional quality of the performances. On a second viewing, I become fascinated by Amira Casar, playing Elio’s mother, Anella. Her clear, calm gaze locks on to her husband and her son as she translates a German fable to them, asking unspoken questions of both. “Is it better to speak or to die?”

Stuhlbarg, meanwhile, carries a remarkable scene, perhaps the most important in the film. It’s a speech in which he effectively rips open his chest and bares his heart to his son. Hammer, while technically a little mature for the role, captures the gilded alpha male certainty that makes Oliver so attractive; the casually decisive way that he moves through the world unsettles Elio. And Chalamet, with his restless, impatient physicality and a face as sensual and sculpted as a fallen angel from a Caravaggio painting, is quite simply astonishing. The final scene of the film – the camera rests on Elio’s face in the foreground as he processes his heartbreak – is first love encapsulated in one, sumptuously sad, single shot.


Wendy Ide

The GuardianTramp

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