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Call Me by Your Name

2017, Romance/Drama, 2h 12m

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Call Me by Your Name offers a melancholy, powerfully affecting portrait of first love, empathetically acted by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Read critic reviews

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Luca Guadagnino ’s films are all about the transformative power of nature—the way it allows our true selves to shine through and inspires us to pursue our hidden passions. From the wild, windswept hills of “ I Am Love ” to the chic swimming pool of “ A Bigger Splash ,” Guadagnino vividly portrays the outside world as almost a character in itself—driving the storyline, urging the other characters to be bold, inviting us to feel as if we, too, are a part of this intoxicating atmosphere.

Never has this been more true than in “Call Me By Your Name,” a lush and vibrant masterpiece about first love set amid the warm, sunny skies, gentle breezes and charming, tree-lined roads of northern Italy. Guadagnino takes his time establishing this place and the players within it. He’s patient in his pacing, and you must be, as well. But really, what’s the rush? It’s the summer of 1983, and there’s nothing to do but read, play piano, ponder classic art and pluck peaches and apricots from the abundant fruit trees.

Within this garden of sensual delights, an unexpected yet life-changing romance blossoms between two young men who initially seem completely different on the surface.

17-year-old Elio ( Timothee Chalamet ) is once again visiting his family’s summer home with his parents: his father ( Michael Stuhlbarg ), an esteemed professor of Greco-Roman culture, and his mother ( Amira Casar ), a translator and gracious hostess. Elio has the gangly body of a boy but with an intellect and a quick wit beyond his years, and the worldliness his parents have fostered within him at least allows him to affect the façade of sophistication. But beneath the bravado, a gawky and self-conscious kid sometimes still emerges. By the end of the summer, that kid will be vanquished forever.

An American doctoral student named Oliver ( Armie Hammer ) arrives for the annual internship Elio’s father offers. Oliver is everything Elio isn’t—or at least, that’s our primary perception of him. Tall, gorgeous and supremely confident, he is the archetypal all-American hunk. But as polite as he often can be, Oliver can also breeze out of a room with a glib, “Later,” making him even more of a tantalizing mystery.

Chalamet and Hammer have just ridiculous chemistry from the get-go, even though (or perhaps because) their characters are initially prickly toward each other: testing, pushing, feeling each other out, yet constantly worrying about what the other person thinks. They flirt by trying to one-up each other with knowledge of literature or classical music, but long before they ever have any physical contact, their electric connection is unmistakable. Lazy poolside chats are fraught with tension; spontaneous bike rides into town to run errands feel like nervous first dates.

Writer James Ivory ’s generous, sensitive adaptation of Andre Aciman ’s novel reveals these characters and their ever-evolving dynamic in beautifully steady yet detailed fashion. And so when Elio and Oliver finally dare to reveal their true feelings for each other—a full hour into the film—the moment makes you hold your breath with its intimate power, and the emotions feel completely authentic and earned.   

The way Elio and Oliver peel away each other’s layers has both a sweetness and a giddy thrill to it, even though they feel they must keep their romance a secret from Elio’s parents. (Elio also has a kinda-sorta girlfriend in Marzia [ Esther Garrel ], a thoughtful, playful French teen who’s also in town for the summer.) One of the many impressive elements of Chalamet’s beautiful, complex performance is the effortless way he transitions between speaking in English, Italian and French, depending on whom Elio is with at the time. It gives him an air of maturity that’s otherwise still in development; eventually his massive character arc feels satisfying and true.

But Oliver’s evolution is just as crucial, and Hammer finds the tricky balance between the character’s swagger and his vulnerability as he gives himself over to this exciting affair. He’s flirty but tender—the couple’s love scenes are heartbreaking and intensely erotic all at once—and even though he’s the more experienced of the two, he can’t help but diving in headlong.

And yet, the most resonant part of “Call Me By Your Name” may not even be the romance itself, but rather the lingering sensation that it can’t last, which Guadagnino evokes through long takes and expert use of silence. A feeling of melancholy tinges everything, from the choice of a particular shirt to the taste of a perfectly ripe peach. And oh my, that peach scene—Guadagnino was wise when he took a chance and left it in from the novel. It really works, and it’s perhaps the ultimate example of how masterfully the director manipulates and enlivens all of our senses.

There’s a lushness to the visual beauty of this place, but it’s not so perfect as to be off-putting. Quite the opposite. Despite the director’s infamous eye for meticulous detail, cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom ’s 35mm images provide a tactile quality that heightens the sensations, makes them feel almost primal. We see the wind gently rustling through the trees, or streaks of sunlight hitting Elio’s dark curls through an open bedroom window, and while it’s all subtly sensual, an inescapable tension is building underneath.

Guadagnino establishes that raw, immediate energy from the very beginning through his use of music. The piano of contemporary classical composer John Adams’ intricate, insistent “Hallelujah Junction – 1 st  Movement” engages us during the elegant title sequence, while Sufjan Stevens’ plaintive, synthy “Visions of Gideon” during the film’s devastating final shot ends the film on an agonizingly sad note. (You’ll want to stay all the way through the closing credits—that long, last image is so transfixing. I seriously don’t know how Chalamet pulled it off, but there is serious craft on display here.)

In between is Guadagnino’s inspired use of the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” an iconic ’80s New Wave tune you’ve probably heard a million times before but will never hear the same way again. The first time he plays it, it’s at an outdoor disco where Oliver feels so moved by the bouncy, percussive beat that he can’t help but jump around to it and get lost in the music, lacking all sense of self-consciousness. Watching this towering figure just go for it on the dance floor in his Converse high-tops is a moment of pure joy, but it’s also as if a dam has broken within Elio, being so close to someone who’s feeling so free. The second time he plays it, toward the end of Oliver and Elio’s journey, it feels like the soundtrack to a time capsule as it recaptures a moment of seemingly endless emotional possibility.

They know what they’ve found has to end—we know it has to end. But a beautiful monologue from the always excellent Stuhlbarg as Elio’s warmhearted and open-minded father softens the blow somewhat. It’s a perfectly calibrated scene in a film full of them, and it’s one of a million reasons why “Call Me By Your Name” is far and away the best movie of the year.

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for RogerEbert.com since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series "Ebert Presents At the Movies" opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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Film credits.

Call Me by Your Name movie poster

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language.

130 minutes

Timothée Chalamet as Elio Perlman

Armie Hammer as Oliver

Michael Stuhlbarg as Lyle Perlman

Amira Casar as Annella Perlman

Esther Garrel as Marzia

Victoire Du Bois as Chiara

Writer (based on the novel by)


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The Empty, Sanitized Intimacy of “Call Me by Your Name”

review film call me by your name

By Richard Brody

Luca Guadagnino’s new film, “Call Me by Your Name,” may be progressive in its appropriately admiring depiction of a loving and erotic relationship between two young men, but its storytelling is backward. It is well known, and therefore no spoiler to say, that it’s a story, set in 1983, about a summer fling between a graduate student named Oliver (Armie Hammer), who’s in his mid-twenties, and Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the seventeen-year-old son of the professor with whom Oliver is working and at whose lavish estate in northern Italy he’s staying. Half a year after their brief relationship, Oliver and Elio speak, seemingly for the first time in many months. Elio affirms that his parents were aware of the relationship and offered their approval, to which Oliver responds, “You’re so lucky; my father would have carted me off to a correctional facility.” And that’s the premise of the film: in order to have anything like a happy adolescence and avoid the sexual repression and frustration that seem to be the common lot, it’s essential to pick the right parents. The movie is about, to put it plainly, being raised right.

If Guadagnino had any real interest in his characters, what Elio and Oliver say about their parents near the end of the movie would have been among the many confidences that they share throughout. Long before the two become lovers, they’re friends—somewhat wary friends, who try to express their desire but, in the meantime, spend lots of time together eating meals and taking strolls, on bike rides and errands—and the story is inconceivable without the conversation that they’d have had as their relationship developed. And yet, as the movie is made, what they actually say to each other is hardly seen or heard.

They’re both intellectuals. Oliver is an archeologist and a classicist with formidable philological skills and philosophical training; he reads Stendhal for fun, Heraclitus for work, and writes about Heidegger. Elio, who’s trilingual (in English, French, and Italian), is a music prodigy who transcribes by ear music by Schoenberg and improvises, at the piano, a Liszt-like arrangement of a piece by Bach and a Busoni-like arrangement of the Liszt-like arrangement, and he’s literature-smitten as well. But for Guadagnino it’s enough for both of them to post their intellectual bona fides on the screen like diplomas. The script (written by James Ivory) treats their intelligence like a club membership, their learning like membership cards, their intellectualism like a password—and, above all, their experience like baggage that’s checked at the door.

What their romantic lives have been like prior to their meeting, they never say. Is Oliver the first man with whom Elio has had an intimate relationship? Has Elio been able to acknowledge, even to himself, his attraction to other men, or is the awakening of desire for a male a new experience for him? What about for Oliver? Though Elio and Oliver are also involved with women in the course of the summer, they don’t ever discuss their erotic histories, their desires, their inhibitions, their hesitations, their joys, their heartbreaks. They’re the most tacit of friends and the most silent of lovers—or, rather, in all likelihood they’re voluble and free-spoken, as intellectually and personally and verbally intimate as they are physically intimate, as passionate about their love lives as about the intellectual fires that drive them onward—but the movie doesn’t show them sharing these things. Guadagnino can’t be bothered to imagine (or to urge Ivory to imagine) what they might actually talk about while sitting together alone. Scenes deliver some useful information to push the plot ahead and then cut out just as they get rolling, because Guadagnino displays no interest in the characters, only in the story.

For that matter, Guadagnino offers almost nothing of Elio’s parents’ talk about whatever might be going on with their son and Oliver. Not that the parents (played by Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) are absentee—they’re present throughout, and there are even scenes featuring them apart from both Elio and Oliver, talking politics and movies with friends, but there isn’t a scene of them discussing their son’s relationship. They don’t express anything about it at all, whether approval or fear or even practical concern regarding the reactions of the neighbors. The characters of “Call Me by Your Name” are reduced to animated ciphers, as if Guadagnino feared that detailed practical discussions, or displays of freedom of thought and action, might dispel the air of romantic mystery and silent passion that he conjures in lieu of relationships. The elision of the characters’ mental lives renders “Call Me by Your Name” thin and empty, renders it sluggish; the languid pace of physical action is matched by the languid pace of ideas, and the result is an enervating emptiness.

There are two other characters whose near-total silence and self-effacement is a mark of Guadagnino’s blinkered and sanitized point of view—two domestic employees, the middle-aged cook and maid Mafalda (Vanda Capriolo) and the elderly groundskeeper and handyman Anchise (Antonio Rimoldi), who work for Elio’s family, the Perlmans. What do they think, and what do they say? They’re working for a Jewish family—the Perlmans, Elio tells Oliver (who’s also Jewish), are the only Jewish family in the region, even the only Jewish family ever to have set foot in the village—and they observe a brewing bond between Elio and Oliver. Do they care at all? Does the acceptance of this homosexual relationship exist in a bubble within the realm of intellectuals, and does that tolerance depend upon the silencing of the working class? Is there any prejudice anywhere in the area where the story takes place?

The one hint that there might be any at all comes in a brief scene of Elio and Oliver sharing a furtive caress in a shadowed arcade, when they brush hands and Oliver says, “I would kiss you if I could.” (That pregnant line, typically, ends the scene.) Even there, where the setting—the sight lines between the town at large and the character’s standpoint—is of dramatic significance, Guadagnino has no interest in showing a broad view of the location, because of his bland sensibility and flimsy directorial strategy, because of his relentless delivery of images that have the superficial charm of picture postcards. Adding a reverse angle or a broad pan shot on a setting is something that Guadagnino can’t be bothered with, because it would subordinate the scene’s narrow evocations to complexities that risk puncturing the mood just as surely as any substantive discussion might do.

To be sure, there’s much that a good movie can offer beside smart talk and deep confidences; for that matter, the development of characters is a grossly overrated quality in movies, and some of the best directors often do little of it. There’s also a realm of symbol, of gesture, of ideas, of emotions that arise from careful attention to images or a brusque gestural energy; that’s where Guadagnino plants the movie, and that’s where the superficiality of his artistry emerges all the more clearly. He has no sense of positioning, of composition, of rhythm, but he’s not free with his camera, either; his actors are more or less in a constant proscenium of a frame that displays their action without offering a point of view.

The intimacy of Elio and Oliver is matched by very little cinematic intimacy. There are a few brief images of bodies intertwined, some just-offscreen or cannily framed sex, but no real proximity, almost no closeups, no tactile sense, no point of view of either character toward the other. Guadagnino rarely lets himself get close to the characters, because he seems to wish never to lose sight of the expensive architecture, the lavish furnishings, the travelogue locations, the manicured lighting, the accoutrements that fabricate the sense of “ order and beauty, luxury, calm, and sensuality .” All that’s missing is the Web site offering Elio-and-Oliver tours through the Italian countryside, with a stopover at the Perlman villa. Instead of gestural or pictorial evocations of intimacy, the performers act out the script’s emotions with a bland literalness that—due to the mechanistic yet vague direction—is often laughable, as in the case of the pseudo-James Dean-like grimacing that Guadagnino coaxes from Chalamet. Even the celebrated awkward dance that Oliver performs at an outdoor night spot was more exhilarating when performed to a Romanian song by an anonymous young man at a computer screen. Hammer is game, playful, and openhearted, but the scene as filmed is calculatedly cute and disingenuous. (Such faults in performance fall upon directors, not because they pull puppet strings but because they create the environment and offer the guidance from which the performances result, and then they choose what stays in the movie.)

There are moments of tenderness—telegraphed from miles away but nonetheless moving, as when Oliver grasps Elio’s bare shoulder and then makes light of it, when he reaches out to touch Elio’s hand, when Elio slides his bare foot over Oliver’s—that are simply and bittersweetly affecting. They’re in keeping with the story of a love affair of mutual discovery that is sheltered from social circumstances, from prejudice, from hostility, from side-eyes or religious dogma—and that nevertheless involves heartbreak. It’s a story about romantic melancholy and a sense of loss as a crucial element of maturation and self-discovery, alongside erotic exploration, fulfillment, and first love. The idea of the film is earnest, substantial, moving, and quite beautiful—in its idea, its motivation, its motivating principle. It offers, in theory, a sort of melancholy romantic realism. But, as rendered by Guadagnino, it remains at the level of a premise, a pitch, an index card.

Near the end of the film, Professor Perlman delivers a monologue to Elio that concentrates the movie’s sap of intellectualized understanding and empathy into a rich and potent Oscar syrup. The speech is moving and wise; Stuhlbarg’s delivery of it, in inflection and gesture, is finely burnished. Here, Guadagnino’s direction is momentarily incisive, in a way that it has not been throughout the film, perhaps because the professor’s academicized liberalism toward matters of sex is the one thing that truly excites the director. The entire film is backloaded—and it’s nearly emptied out in order for him to lay his cards, finally, on the table.

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Luca Guadagnino8217s sensuous film evokes the transformations of young love.

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Review: A Boy’s Own Desire in ‘Call Me by Your Name’

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Timothée Chalamet in “Call Me by Your Name.”

By Manohla Dargis

You don’t just watch Luca Guadagnino’s movies, you swoon into them. His best-known titles, “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash,” feature beautiful people with impeccable taste experiencing haute-bourgeois life intensely. Passion and drama upend those lives, but what’s most striking about these movies is their extraordinary palpable quality. In Mr. Guadagnino’s work, passion and drama are expressed in words, deeds and surging music but also in the vibrant, visceral textures that envelop his characters — the cool marble, succulent fruit, shadow and light, sheens of sweat. These are movies that turn your gaze into near-touch, inviting you to see and almost caress their sun-warmed bodies.

Mr. Guadagnino’s latest, “Call Me by Your Name,” is another ravishment of the senses, though this time there’s a strong narrative tethering all the churning feelings and sensuous surfaces. Like the 2007 novel by André Aciman on which it’s based, the story turns on an affair between Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a coltish 17-year-old American-Italian, and Oliver ( Armie Hammer ), an American in his 20s. Elio lives with his father (a tremendous Michael Stuhlbarg) and mother (Amira Casar) in a villa in northern Italy. Each summer the father, a professor of Greco-Roman culture, invites a student to work with him and stay with his family; this year it’s Oliver who moves in.

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Elio and Oliver’s affair begins slowly with each circling the other at a distance, conveying the kind of nonchalance that’s a shield for interest. Oliver proves far better at this part of the game; he knows more than to look too long and too hard. Elio’s furtive, ducking glances, by contrast, tend to linger, hovering in the air like questions. He’s increasingly curious about this new guest, but soon inexplicably (to Elio, at least) irked by him as well, leading Elio to complain to his parents about Oliver’s standard signoff (“later”). But when Elio scribbles a private rebuke in a notebook, chastising himself for responding harshly toward Oliver, it’s as if he were writing an apologetic love letter.

Mr. Guadagnino is very good at catching the indolent drift of long summer days, with their sleepiness and bared limbs. Everyone seems to move in slow motion at the villa, except perhaps the family’s hard-working maid. This languor fits the tempo of Elio and Oliver’s relationship, which evolves over meals, drowsy idylls, a little work and a spontaneous piano recital that becomes an overture to seduction. A gifted musician, Elio easily moves from piano to guitar (much as his family shifts from speaking Italian to French to English), talent that makes him seem at one with the villa’s miles of bookshelves, its velvet sofas, scattered Oriental rugs and tastefully arranged antiques.

It’s an alluring milieu — charming, civilized and perfectly, if a shade too flawlessly, arranged. Here, even a busy breakfast table and the fruit on a tree can seem art directed. Mr. Guadagnino almost can’t help making everything look intoxicating, yet he also makes you believe in this family’s reality. The grand piano isn’t for show and neither are the books or the open affection and respect with which Elio and his parents treat one another. (The movie reminds you how rarely characters read for pleasure, much less listen to classical music.) “Call Me by Your Name” is set in 1983, so no one is staring into a smartphone. And the time frame means that AIDS doesn’t figure in the story, though there’s a suggestion that the closet does.

The story primarily unfolds through Elio’s point of view. The restless camera tags alongside him, showing you what he sees, his erotic reveries and yearning. And it’s Elio who initiates the affair, at least overtly, though Oliver later admits to playing his part in what the story frames as a mutual seduction. Mr. Guadagnino avoids directly engaging the difference in Elio and Oliver’s ages, which might have forced him to explore the underside of his sumptuous surfaces to greater, messier effect. Instead, Mr. Guadagnino leans on beauty, as when Elio’s father poetically speaks to an increasingly agitated Oliver about the “ageless ambiguity” of some male statues (“as if they’re daring you to desire them”).

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Written by James Ivory (the director of films like “Maurice” ), “Call Me by Your Name” progresses through evasions and encounters, with Elio advancing, Oliver receding and their circling narrowing. The two don’t (can’t, won’t) always say what they mean. So Mr. Guadagnino speaks for them by eroticizing their world, making desire visible in the luxuriousness of the setting, in the green enveloping the villa, the gushing waters of a pool and the graceful lines of male statues. When Oliver hungrily eats a soft-boiled egg, cracking the shell and causing the yolk to messily spurt, Mr. Guadagnino’s lyricism slides into comedy; it’s hard to know just how self-mocking the moment is meant to be.

Even so, the lyricism seduces as does fragile, ecstatic Elio. “Call Me by Your Name” is less a coming-of-age story, a tale of innocence and loss, than one about coming into sensibility. In that way, it is about the creation of a new man who, the story suggests, is liberated by pleasure that doesn’t necessarily establish sexual identity. It’s important that Elio and Oliver have relationships with women, though for seemingly different reasons: the overheated Elio sleeps with a girlfriend (Esther Garrel), while Oliver carries on a more performative affair with a local (Victoire Du Bois). The women are not treated with much kindness, but these affairs further complicate the movie’s vision of pleasure’s fluidity.

There are moments when Mr. Guadagnino’s visual choices seem unintentionally in competition with the quieter, intricate emotions that his actors put across so movingly. He can be discreet to the point of coyness (bodies sweat but don’t necessarily grunt), but it is finally the insistent delicacy and depth of emotion that makes these characters so heart-skippingly tender. The charismatic Mr. Chalamet, Mr. Hammer and Mr. Stuhlbarg — whose brilliant delivery of a tricky speech pierces the heart and, crucially, the movie’s lustrous patina — transform beauty into feeling. In one alive, vulnerable and life-altering summer, Elio’s desire finds its purpose. He loves, and in loving, he becomes.

review film call me by your name

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

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The Sumptuous Love Story of Call Me by Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s tale of budding gay romance in 1980s Italy is one of the most mesmerizing films of the year.

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in 'Call Me by Your Name'

“What do you do around here?” the tall, strapping Oliver (Armie Hammer) asks Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the 17-year-old giving him a tour of the charming Italian village where Oliver will be living for the next six weeks. “Wait for the summer to end,” the bored-seeming Elio says with a sigh. “And what do you do in the winter? Wait for the summer to come?” Oliver shoots back. That only gets a chuckle from Elio, but that line nails the initial mood of Call Me by Your Name , Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous new romance, which follows a deep connection that springs out of those restless days of late adolescence.

Elio is the intelligent, charming son of archeology professor Samuel Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), with whom Oliver, a graduate student, is interning for the summer. Guadagnino’s film, based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman, charts Elio and Oliver’s relationship, which develops haltingly at first but then burns brightly. It’s a swooning tale about the seismic power of first love—one that doesn’t dismiss Elio’s experience as a folly of youth, but instead digs into the unmistakable trace it leaves, for better or worse.

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It’s also a story of queer love that isn’t tinged with horror or tragedy, a gay romance about a genuine attachment. At the same time, Call Me by Your Name doesn’t attempt to sanitize itself as a bland, “universal” film in hopes of appealing to a wider audience. It’s both intensely erotic and intensely contained, acknowledging the very private lives gay men were forced to lead in the early 1980s, when the film is set. As a result, in Call Me by Your Name, virtually every bit of physical contact is crucial and electrifying.

The intimacy Guadagnino (and James Ivory, who wrote the film’s script) finds in these characters is present from the beginning, but Chalamet (a 21-year-old budding superstar whom I knew best from an old season of Homeland ) is the audience’s way in, as a boy on the verge of adulthood who develops immediate, if confused, attraction to the confident Oliver. Not long after the two first meet, Elio retires to his room and reclines in his bed, looking at the tuft of hair sprouting from his armpit, and lazily blowing on it. A few scenes later, Elio is bold enough to sneak into Oliver’s empty room and put Oliver’s swimsuit over his head.

Guadagnino doesn’t include these moments to advance the plot or to let the audience in on some secret; the connection between Elio and Oliver is apparent very quickly. Rather, he’s trying to sketch a portrait of personal, formative experiences of sexuality, and of Elio’s relationship with his own body. It’s tremendously insightful work from a director who has long appreciated actors’ bodies as more than aesthetic objects. In his 2009 film I Am Love , Guadagnino presented Tilda Swinton—as a married woman having a dangerous affair—at her most ravishing, and then spent the movie digging into her vulnerable psyche. In A Bigger Splash , a music producer played by Ralph Fiennes was all physicality, dancing wildly for the camera in an extended introduction, but Guadagnino goes on to expose just how strung out his character really was.

Even compared to the director’s previous films (which are excellent and worth watching), Call Me by Your Name is a huge step forward for Guadagnino. The story manages to transcend all its genre trappings: This isn’t just a luxurious vacation movie, but it’s still crammed to the gills with gorgeous shots of the Italian countryside and Elio’s family home. This isn’t just an erotic drama, and yet the love scenes are all choreographed with care. And most importantly, this isn’t just a coming-of-age tale, but the ardor Elio and Oliver have for each other feels utterly vital, as if every touch will be seared into their memories.

Chalamet is handed the difficult task of making Elio authentically aloof and cold at times. Though he’s a teenager desperate for the approval of everyone around him, he possesses a vulnerability that he displays only occasionally. Hammer, who could so easily be reduced to the part of a typically handsome Hollywood stand-in, is mesmerizing; he switches between Oliver’s public brashness and private tenderness with ease, making his character far more than a simple object of desire. And lurking in the background is Stuhlbarg, wonderful as a knowing father who is content to mostly let his son figure things out by himself, but who steps in with a guiding hand when things get a little tougher. (He also delivers one of the most astonishing film monologues of recent memory.)

Call Me by Your Name soaks in that end-of-summer mood throughout, one where each move in Elio and Oliver’s courtship is loaded with tension (simply because their time together is so short, and thus so meaningful ) . As such, it’s thrilling to watch, even as the pair waste the days away swimming, biking, and talking around their feelings; when their dynamic finally explodes into passion, it’s one of the year’s most satisfying film moments. Each element is carefully calibrated, but deployed with consummate grace—this is a film to rush to, and to then savor every minute of.

Overwhelming passion… Timothée Chalamet, left, and Armie Hammer.

Call Me By Your Name review – gorgeous gay love story seduces and overwhelms

Set during an endless Italian summer, this ravishing drama starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet is imbued with a sophisticated sensuality

T he debt to pleasure is deferred in exquisite style for this ravishingly beautiful movie set in Northern Italy in the early 80s: a coming-of-age love story between a precocious teenage boy and a slightly older man. Their summer romance is saturated with poetic languor and a deeply sophisticated sensuality.

The film is directed by Luca Guadagnino (who made I Am Love and A Bigger Splash ) and adapted from the novel by André Aciman by James Ivory, who had originally been slated to co-direct and has a producer credit. Ivory’s presence inevitably calls to mind his film version of EM Forster’s Maurice , to which this is frankly superior. For me, it brought back Alan Hollinghurst novels such as The Folding Star and The Spell. Call Me By Your Name is an erotic pastoral that culminates in a quite amazing speech by Michael Stuhlbarg, playing the boy’s father. It’s a compelling dramatic gesture of wisdom, understanding and what I can only call moral goodness.

Stuhlbarg plays Perlman, a middle-aged American professor of classical antiquity living with his stylish wife Annella (Amira Casar), in a handsome Italian house with their son, Elio – a remarkable performance from Timothée Chalamet – who is a very talented musician, spending his time transcribing Schoenberg and composing piano variations on JS Bach. Theirs is a cultured household, in which everyone is proficient in English, French, Italian and, for Annella, German. The family is also Jewish. Elio calls them “Jews of discretion”, a sense of otherness that is to serve as a metaphor for concealed sexuality.

Elio slopes and mopes about the huge house as the long hot summer commences, grumpy and moody, not knowing what to do with himself or his directionless sexuality, shooing away flies, frowning over paperbacks, dressed mostly in nothing more than shorts, all shoulder blades and hairless calves. Every year, his dad invites a favoured grad student to spend the summer with the family to help him with research. This year it is the impossibly handsome and statuesque Oliver, played by Armie Hammer , who never wears a pair of long trousers in the entire film. He establishes his academic credentials early on by presuming to correct Perlman’s derivation of the word “apricot”. Both Elio and Oliver are to have romantic associations with local young women, but it is more than clear where this is heading. And when the main event arrives, Guadagnino’s camera wanders tactfully away from their bed, gazing thoughtfully out of the window at the hot summer night.

A life of leisure … from left, Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer.

What is perhaps so incredible is the concept of leisure, a cousin to pleasure, pure gorgeous indolence and sexiness for six whole weeks. No one appears to have very much to do in the way of dreary work, despite the references to typing up pages and cataloguing slides. People sunbathe; they impetuously jump up and go swimming, have unhurried meals al fresco, cycle into town to drink in bars, or play volleyball. The main work-related activity is when Perlman and Oliver go to inspect a sensational discovery: parts of a classical statue recovered from a lake. Hellenic sensuality is resurrected in concert with the not-so-secret sexual tumult emerging all about.

At any one time, nothing is happening, and everything is happening. Elio and Oliver will catch each other’s eye in their adjoining bedrooms or downstairs in the hall; they will casually notice each other changing into swimming costumes. Each of these intensely realised, superbly controlled and weighted moments is as gripping as a thriller. Hammer’s Oliver is worldlier than Elio, but not a roué or a cynic; in an odd way, Elio is more cosmopolitan than Oliver. The visiting American looks like a mix of Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf.

Chalamet’s performance as Elio is outstanding, especially in an unbearably sad sequence, when he has to ring his mum from a payphone and ask to be driven home. (In that scene, Guadagnino contrives to show an old lady fanning herself in the right-hand side of the frame. Was she an actor? A non-professional who just happened to be there? Either way, there is a superb rightness to it.) And then there is Stuhlbarg’s speech advising against the impulse to cauterise or forget pain: “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30.” There is such tenderness to this film. I was overwhelmed by it.

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Call Me by Your Name is an erotic film in every sense of the word. It’s also a masterpiece.

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer star in a lush story of first love and desire.

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Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name

It is not easy to put Call Me b y Your Name into words. Luca Guadagnino’s new film, which adapts André Aciman’s 2007 novel about a precocious 17-year-old who falls in lust and love with his father’s 24-year-old graduate student, is remarkable for how it turns literature into pure cinema, all emotion and image and heady sensation.

You could call Call Me b y Your Name an erotic film, then — and it absolutely, undeniably is. But I mean it in a way that’s broader than our modern narrow usage of the term: not just sex but also love, which is bigger and more frightening. Eros is a name for a kind of love that’s equal parts passion and torment, a kind of irrational heart fire that opens a gate into something longer-lasting. But it’s love that also feels, in the moment, like hurtling headlong off a cliff.

I can’t remember a film that better captures that kind of madness and heightened attention to not just the object of desire but also the world at large. Nor can I recall a movie that more directly appeals to all of the audience’s senses to make them feel what’s happening onscreen. It’s undoubtedly a gay love story, though it’s less about coming out than coming of age. Call Me b y Your Name is a lush, heady experience for the body, but it’s also an arousal for the soul.

Call Me b y Your Name drips with desire as it spins a story of first love

Set “somewhere in northern Italy” in the summer of 1983, Call Me b y Your Name lingers over six sun-soaked weeks in which everything shifts for Elio ( Timothée Chalamet ). Cocky and preternaturally sophisticated — but with a hint of the insecure teenager still hanging around him — Elio joins his doting, unconventional parents ( Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar ) at their comfortable ramshackle Italian villa, where they prepare to welcome their annual guest, the latest in a series of graduate students who spend the summer working with Elio’s father, a classics professor.

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet, and Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name

This summer that student is handsome, confident Oliver ( Armie Hammer ), who has a way of taking up space: He’s very tall, for sure, but his very presence seems to fill the spaces he’s in, whether it’s on the court in a casual volleyball game, at a local bar, or dancing in a crowd on the town square. Whereas Elio affects a studied aloofness, Oliver plunges into everything, clumsily destroying one soft-boiled egg at breakfast the first morning, then downing another while murmuring his appreciation, a man of ravenous desire only sometimes held back by a veneer of gentility. He refuses another: “I know myself,” he says. “If I have a second, I’m gonna have a third, and then a fourth, and then you’ll just have to roll me out of here.”

Elio looks on in wonder as this happens, both disgusted and fascinated by Oliver, who barrels out of rooms hollering, “Later!” Oliver’s frank American confidence is an inverse of Elio’s quieter impishness. The two couldn’t be more different.

The chemistry between Hammer and Chalamet, and their performances, sells the relationship completely. (They’re true starmaking turns for both actors, along with Stuhlbarg in a brief but key scene.) But the spark between them takes a while to fan into a flame, especially since Elio has taken up with a French girl named Marzia ( Esther Garrel ) who’s in town for the summer. Oliver and Elio’s relationship starts out combative, with Elio navigating whatever’s happening inside of him by feigning disinterest, playing coy, and watching Oliver from afar while taunting him up close. Eventually they become friends. But one evening his mother reads from a 16th-century French romance, in which a knight yearning for a princess with whom he’s formed a friendship wonders, “Is it better to speak or to die?” And Elio decides he has to speak.

We know (and Oliver and Elio and Elio’s parents know) that this can’t last forever, but in capturing the burn, Guadagnino makes us feel Elio’s desire, and thus his devastation. Every image practically drips with longing: a live fish someone’s caught in the river, pages flapping in the hot breeze, water pouring from a tap into a stone pool, a table spread with breakfast preparations, the smoldering end of a cigarette. And, of course, the bodies of beautiful young people, which seem to have very little shielding them from the hot Italian sun.

Timothée Chalamee and Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name

In this film, as in earlier ones like A Bigger Splash and I Am Love , Guadagnino’s sensual attention to the textures and smells and intimate noises of Italian life builds out a cinematic world that encompasses his characters but is much greater than them. (It’s no accident that Heraclitus’s The Cosmic Fragments , philosophical texts about the world rather than just man, makes a brief but pointed appearance.) The score mingles all kinds of music together — notably, John Adams’s “Hallelujah Junction,” the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” and two original songs by Sufjan Stevens — and it feels like this movie is sparkling, as if you’re watching it in 4D. It’s intoxicating.

It’s also pointedly Edenic, capturing a paradise that will inevitably be lost — but how pregnant with weighty joy and fullness the paradise is in the meantime; the inevitable loss seems only to heighten this. In A Bigger Splash , paradise falls when the snake of jealousy winds its way into the bliss; in Call Me b y Your Name , it’s the simple, inevitable parting mandated by the ways that age and culture and station will keep Elio and Oliver apart.

Call Me By Your Name draws on ancient themes while mingling together deeply human experiences

The name of the film, and a pivotal moment in it, comes from Oliver pleading in a whisper to Elio, after they’ve finally slept together, for him to “call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine.”

It feels like an odd request at first, until you remember an idea that surfaces in Plato’s Symposium : that in Greek mythology, humans were created as four-armed, four-legged, two-faced creatures, but split apart by Zeus and condemned to spend life searching for their other halves. In the Symposium ’s rendering, whether one searches for a female or male half has to do with the nature of your original being, and there are various means through which two halves who find each other might live in companionship.

But “when one of them meets with his other half,” it continues, “the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment.” This is the highest form of love — “the people who pass their whole lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire of one another.” This is, in other words, an origin story for what we moderns might call soulmates, and it hums through Call Me b y Your Name like electricity.

Actors Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer sit at an outdoor cafe in the movie “Call Me By Your Name.”

Ancient sculptures of figures who, as Elio’s father puts it, “dare you desire them” recur throughout the movie, strengthening the allusion to the ancients. And it mixes the pagan with the idea of a Garden of Eden — when Elio and Oliver spend their first night together, it’s certainly explicit at first, but then the camera pans out the window to rest on a tree. And a piece of juicy, luscious fruit shows up in a key, unforgettable scene that weaves together the natures of desire and guilt.

But unlike the story of the Garden of Eden, there’s nothing like sin in Call Me b y Your Name ’s vocabulary — or at least, nothing puritanical. (One assumes, watching the film, that a puritanical thought has never entered Guadagnino’s head.) This isn’t a film about wrongdoing and punishment; it is about love, loss, and piercing joy in the context of a gay romance.

Elio’s father, speaking to him near the end of the story, lays out the movie’s sense of what’s right and what’s wrong: “Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once,” he says. “And before you know it, your heart’s worn out. And as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there’s sorrow, pain. Don’t kill it, and with it the joy you’ve felt.” It is worth wading into desire, the movie suggests; it’s the only way to be alive, both in the good parts and the painful ones.

The way Call Me b y Your Name intermingles lust and love, desire and selflessness, flesh and soul is fully in service of Eros, but it isn’t just about sex, though that’s certainly a big part of it. It’s also trying to make us feel a mingling of souls that have found each other, and evoke the exhilaration of that meeting. It summons an erotic orientation toward the world with all its power, and then pours it onto the audience. It is, undoubtedly, Guadagnino’s masterpiece.

Call Me by Your Name opens in theaters on November 22.

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Call Me by Your Name Is a Masterpiece

Portrait of David Edelstein

In Call Me by Your Name , the gifted young American actor Timothée Chalamet plays Elio, a 17-year-old who spends summers with his academic parents in their airy, rustic villa in Crema in northern Italy. In early scenes, the skinny, long-waisted Elio seems vaguely uncomfortable in his body, as if uncertain what to do with it apart from the de rigueur canoodling with teenage girls who swim with him in nearby lakes and ponds. It’s only when he stares from his bedroom window at the arrival of this year’s summer guest — a young scholar who’ll spend six weeks reading, writing, and working with the professor — that Elio seems to come out of his own head.

The 24-year-old visitor, Oliver ( Armie Hammer ), has an easy, almost arrogant physicality. He’s broad-shouldered, slim-hipped, absurdly handsome. But he’s hard to read. Oliver gives the shirtless Elio a quick shoulder massage and then heads off to play volleyball. Was it innocent or a come-on? Whichever, Oliver’s touch lingers. Elio sneaks into Oliver’s room and sticks his nose into a pair of discarded bathing trunks, inhaling sharply. He puts them on his head. He’s in heaven.

Call Me by Your Name takes place in summer, 1983. It has the feel of something recollected in tranquility, but the eroticism is startlingly immediate. The faithful adaptation of André Aciman’s novel is by James Ivory, but the movie has a different feel than Ivory’s own formal, somewhat stiff work . The Italian director Luca Guadagnino creates a mood of free-floating sexual longing. Oliver never wears long pants, only short shorts or swim trunks, and young men are always doffing their shirts and jumping into sparkling water or riding on bicycles along dirt roads. The flesh tones stand out against the villa’s pale whites and yellow walls — more tactile but on a continuum with the sculptures and oil paintings by men with similar longings centuries ago. Call Me by Your Name is hardly the first film set in Italy to juxtapose youth and beauty and fleeting seasons with ancient buildings and ruins. But I can’t recall such a continuum between the ephemeral and the enduring.

I also can’t remember a filmmaker who has captured the essence of midsummer this way, lazy but so vivid that every sound registers. Sound floats in through windows — of insects and birds but mostly wind. The presence of Nature can be felt in every one of cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s frames. It’s reflected in the bodies of the characters. Oliver is hard for Elio — and us — to read. Is he toying with the teenager? Or is something stirring in him, too? In this atmosphere, how can something not be stirring? There’s friction in the uncertainty, heightened when Oliver dances provocatively with Elio’s kinda-sorta girlfriend. The minutes go by and then we’re into the film’s second hour with everything maddeningly —but thrillingly — undefined.

The love scenes between Elio and Oliver aren’t explicit — they only feel as if they are. The title is said in a moment of passion. It’s Oliver’s fervent desire to dissolve his self, to become one with Elio. I should point out that Armie Hammer doesn’t look 24 — more like 29, which he was during filming, and that changes the dynamic. Make of that what you will (17 was above the age of legal consent in Italy), but it’s Elio who finally pushes Oliver over the brink — who calls the question.

Michael Stuhlbarg plays Elio’s father, an anthropology professor who gazes intently at his son, seems to know what’s happening — and doesn’t interfere. He and Elio have a revelatory conversation near the end, but it’s the very last shot that stays in mind, all but dissolving the boundary between viewer and actor. Everything in Call Me by Your Name registers momentously, from the scene that definitively raises the question, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” to the ’80s dance numbers to the yearning Sufjan Stevens song over the stunning credits. Chalamet gives the performance of the year. By any name, this is a masterpiece.

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‘Call Me By Your Name’ is among the best movies of the year

review film call me by your name

The pleasures of art, music, food, natural beauty and sexual awakening are evoked and celebrated in “Call Me by Your Name,” an almost sinfully enjoyable movie that both observes and obeys the languid rhythms of a torrid Italian summer.

Set in the early 1980s, Luca Guadanigno's adaptation of André Aciman's 2007 novel barely counts as a period piece, although the short shorts and tube socks Armie Hammer wears to play his smart-jock protagonist put the story squarely in the past. Still, the themes of longing, desire and self-definition are nothing if not timeless. Here, a young man's coming-of-age is given such tactile, emotionally resonant immediacy that it would be recognizable in any country, of any era.

The young man in question is Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the 17-year-old son of an archaeology professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) who has hired an American student named Oliver (Hammer) to be his assistant for the summer. As a typically self-absorbed teenager, Elio at first seems barely aware of Oliver’s presence, being far more interested in his on-and-off girlfriend, reading and pursuing compositional musings on the guitar and piano. For his part, Oliver embodies a purely American brand of unbridled appetite and unselfconscious confidence that strikes an immediate awkward note within Elio’s casually cosmopolitan family. Soon, though, the household reaches its own pleasant rhythm, with the two young men — about seven years apart in age — gravitating toward one another as friends and, eventually, more.

[ Luca Guadagnino Q&A: ‘Call Me by Your Name’ is a movie about family, not sex. ]

Before readers look up the Italian word for “problematic,” let it be noted that it is Elio, not Oliver, who is the pursuer in “Call Me by Your Name,” which was written for the screen by James Ivory. Balancing the objectification of its leading men with discretion and delicacy, this is a film that acknowledges the purity and sculptural beauty of youth — Greek aesthetics, philosophy and ideals of male friendship are invoked early and often — but never at the expense of a character who, on the cusp of manhood, possesses his own agency and desires, despite their sometimes shaky parameters.

review film call me by your name

Portrayed with a note-perfect combination of cocky self-assurance and wary naiveté by Chalamet, Elio is something of an extension of the actor’s hilariously pretentious character in the recent film “Lady Bird” — another teenager with pedantic ideas about his own depth and seriousness. But while Ivory and Guadanigno aren’t afraid to wink at Elio’s youthful lack of self-awareness, they never stoop to ridiculing it: Like Oliver, whose own seeming shallowness masks a surprisingly observant, compassionate nature, they’re patient and indulgent with a stage of life that can seem laughable, enviable and excruciatingly painful all at the same time.

The plot of “Call Me by Your Name” isn’t particularly novel. Its contours are familiar to anyone who can remember their own sentimental education, or that of their favorite literary hero. What sets his movie apart are the flavors, feelings and fleeting glimpses of attraction that find as much erotic tension in a volleyball game or alfresco lunch as in sparring over a Bach cantata. The villa where much of “Call Me by Your Name” transpires, with its lush fruit orchards and burnished, offhanded refinement, feels less like a stage set than a summer home seen through a particularly revealing (but circumspect) keyhole.

Anyone who has seen Guadanigno's previous films, including " I Am Love " and " A Bigger Splash ," understands his gift for creating environments, often drenched in extravagant colors and textures; his staging and pacing are just as sensuously seductive, drawing viewers into a world that seems simultaneously realistic and dreamlike in its detail and pictorial richness.

“Call Me by Your Name” finds the director marshaling those gifts in service to a spellbinding, almost ecstatically beautiful movie that gains even more heft and meaning in its final transcendent moments. What had been a two-hander featuring sensitive, flawlessly judged performances by Chalamet and Hammer expands into something more, and the audience realizes that the entire film could be interpreted as an elegant exercise in misdirection. “Call Me by Your Name” may exemplify well-tempered cinema at its most balanced and attractive, but it’s far more than just a pretty face.

R.  At area theaters. Contains sexuality, nudity and some coarse language. 132 minutes.

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