In picturesque Italy, 1983, a seventeen-year-old boy falls in love with an older man who is working as his father’s research assistant. That’s it. That’s all Call Me By Your Name is about. And it’s marvelous. So many other coming-of-age, coming out, and gay-centered love stories focus on outside forces exerting pressure on the characters. But James Ivory’s (Maurice, The Remains of the Day) screenplay based on André Aciman’s novel throws all that aside to focus on its main character and his internal life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another film that captures sexual awakening and the pangs of first love quite so effortlessly, sincerely, and beautifully.
Director Luca Guadagnino creates the film as a series of stolen moments. His style is a breath of fresh air, because he’s not guided by a forceful narrative gimmick, but by pure emotion. Scenes end when you’re ready to stop feeling what the film has to offer. He captures moments of simple beauty, always stopping short of sentimentality. His choice of music throughout the film is impeccable. Brisk piano music captures seventeen-year-old Elio’s sexual curiosity, innocence, and infatuation, while haunting tunes by Sufjan Stevens capture the more ephemeral, romantic, and aching moments in the film. Guadagnino is more concerned with behavior than with words, and in that pursuit there’s not one false move in the entire movie.
Which brings me to Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer (The Social Network, The Lone Ranger). Under Guadagnino’s direction, these two actors allow themselves to be intimate and vulnerable, creating a nervous, innocent romance more palpable than any I’ve ever seen — it’s just so beautiful to watch happen. Chalamet is especially magnificent in this film. His performance culminates in a heart-wrenching final shot that is sure to become a thing of movie legend.
We also get the added bonus of Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, The Shape of Water) as Chalamet’s father. He’s not given a lot to do throughout most of the film, but the film’s penultimate moment belongs to him. And God damn. May that moment guide us all into the future.
Academy Award: Best Adapted Screenplay (James Ivory)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Timothée Chalamet), Best Song (‘Mystery of Love’, Sufjan Stevens)