Director Luca Guadagnino weaves Italy into Call Me By Your Name so beautifully that the impulse to transcend the screen and live in that world is almost heartbreakingly acute. Fans of Stealing Beauty will feel that same sense of existential meaning simply from characters being similarly frequently al fresco. I thought of Walt Whitman. They seem to live more deliberately, more meaningfully, because they are in constant communion with the air, the water, and the land.
Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is 17, and he navigates the lazy summer with the same unique blend of entitlement, angst, and vulnerability found in teenagers everywhere. His professor father invites a graduate intern to live with them at their sumptuous inherited villa during the summer. Cue the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer), who looks like the quintessential golden American god. His luminosity is enhanced by being the only blonde in the house, and towering stature. He has a quick mind and a complex personality. I could not quite figure him out.
Elio is still discovering himself, including his sexuality, and despite attempts to resist on both sides, he and Oliver fall in love. Of course, like summer, it can’t last, but isn’t that what makes coming of age films so nostalgic and bittersweet? Call Me By Your Name is a message about living in and embracing the moment. Fruit trees and flies are recurring symbols, bursting and ripening and buzzing with life, today.
This theme is underscored by an incredible monologue by Eliot’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). I found myself wanting to replay the scene several times to hear it again, or pull out my phone to write it down. The kind of words that make you whisper “wow…” and the stranger sitting next to you nods in agreement.
Really, really short review: Call Me By Your Name is sweet and impactful, and a visual, sensual, and thematic delight.