Call Me by Your Name is a 2017 coming-of-age drama film directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by James Ivory, based on the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman. Set in Italy in 1983, it chronicles the romantic relationship between Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old living in Italy, and his father’s 24-year-old American assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). The film won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars last month. Here, Boyz film editor Jack Cline reviews the film, speaks with its director and details some of the upcoming highlights of this year’s BFI Flare, the London LGBTQ+ film festival.
A top contender in this year’s movie awards season, Call Me By Your Name won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards and British Academy Film Awards. At 89, screenwriter James Ivory (the legendary director of Merchant Ivory classics like Maurice and Howards End) is the oldest-ever winner in any category at both the Oscars and Baftas, and he also took home the prestigious Writers Guild of America prize. The film earned accolades across the board over recent months, including Best Actor for Timothée Chalamet at the Independent Spirit Awards and the London Critics’ Circle Awards. Critics groups were particularly impressed by the film, and it of course swept the boards at this year’s Dorian Awards, given out by the LGBT critics society Galeca.
So what’s all the fuss about? The film is based on the much-loved 2007 novel by André Aciman, telling the story of 17-year-old Elio (Chalamet), who lives with his American professor dad (Michael Stuhlbarg) and French-Italian mother (Amira Casar) in northern Italy in the summer of 1983. His father’s summer intern this year is the 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer), who immediately catches Elio’s attention. Afraid to pursue this desire, Elio casually keeps Oliver at arm’s length while cultivating a local girlfriend (Esther Garrel). But there’s a moment when the spark between Elio and Oliver can no longer be ignored.
What follows is a complex look at the rules of attraction, as these two young men explore their sexuality and fall in love, knowing that the end of the summer will most likely mean the end of their relationship. It’s an honest portrayal of the push and pull of physical yearning, mixing lust and romance.
Director Luca Guadagnino (see also I Am Love and A Bigger Splash) tells this story from Elio’s perspective, and Chalamet is riveting as this intelligent, curious, artistically gifted teen whose diffidence masks his insecurity. It’s a transparent performance that, along with his very different roles in last year’s Lady Bird and Hostiles, marks him as a young actor to watch. And as he lets us see through Elio’s eyes, it’s easy to see why he’s dazzled by Oliver, and Hammer gives his finest performance to date as the handsome, off-handed young academic who knows that giving in to his desire for Elio might be transgressive. But not giving in might be even worse.
The film has an earthy, sunny look that cleverly stokes a nostalgic tone. This family is a swirl of languages, with food and music in full flow, plus swimming in the river and visiting local villages. It’s all rather idyllic, but that’s the point. And Guadagnino reveals details playfully, keeping the ways these people interact rather messy, which lets us see more about them than we at first realise. It also highlights the way their own points of view limit what they can know about each other. Although it’s very clear that neither of Elio’s parents miss what’s going on. Both Stuhlbarg and Casar have terrific understated moments along the way, each expressing an understanding that’s refreshing in a film like this.
That said, Guadagnino’s decision to cut away from depicting the gay sex scenes feels rather timid (the straight sex scenes are on-screen). This leaves the film feeling compromised, and it makes the audience feel ashamed of this tender, honest relationship in a way that the characters never are. It also makes the title almost awkwardly vague, when it should have a much more forceful sense of intimacy.
Thankfully, the film is still packed with unforgettable emotional moments. A racy sequence involving a very ripe peach is simply jaw-dropping, expertly played with a twinkle in the eye by both Chalamet and Hammer. And Stuhlbarg’s climactic conversation with Chalamet is simply gorgeous, a reminder that life isn’t just about triumphs and happy endings, and that both love and pain are important in making us who we are.
This scene is followed by a staggering long-take as waves of various emotions flood over Chalamet’s face while the credits roll. It’s a one-two punch that has left cinema audiences sobbing uncontrollably. Watching the film at home will be a different experience, perhaps offering more personal connections with the feelings between Elio and Oliver, that surging moment of first love that most likely left us feeling wrecked. So it’s great to find a movie to remind us that sadness is just as important as joy. And it stands up to repeat viewings.
The novel carries on Elio and Oliver’s story through three encounters over the following 20 years, and Guadagnino has announced that he, Chalamet and Hammer will reunite to make a sequel to tell the rest of the story.
Interview with Director Luca Guadagnino
Italian director Luca Guadagnino brings an earthy visual sensuality to Call Me By Your Name. A 46-year-old gay director who shies away from depicting gay sex on-screen, he told Boyz that he preferred to focus on the personal connection between two young men.
The film is set in the early 1980s, but it could never have been made then…
My visions are not related to what’s contemporary and to acceptance. I do what I feel that I have to do. If you want to say something you’ll find a way. I think it’s a movie about an encounter with “the other”. It’s about what it means to be family and to transmit knowledge to another person, and it’s about the transformative nature of accepting someone else into your life. It’s about saying, “I love you for who are you and how you are. I don’t want to change you, and you should be happy with who you are.”
That final shot of Timothée Chalamet during the credits is devastating.
We did three or four takes, I think. “Dry, wet, very wet” – that was my direction. As for the idea behind it, I think the human face is so fascinating. It’s so beautiful to stare at faces. You’re seeing a movie where in a couple of hours you witness this boy’s coming of age and you’re given the privilege at the end of having four minutes of his turmoils. It’s not intrusive because you’re participating in his emotions and you see it all in his face. I think it’s fantastic.
The song Love My Way features prominently.
I love the song! I love The Psychedelic Furs, and I think that song can transport you someplace. I think that Oliver [Armie Hammer] at that moment is transported to some place that speaks to him about himself. But it’s not something from my own experience. I didn’t dance in public until I was much older.
Does the story reflect your own coming of age?
The movie isn’t autobiographical. Well, it’s autobiographical in the way I connected with these people and it’s autobiographical because I’m not shy when it comes to relationships, but the events happening in the film didn’t happen to me.
How has the LGBT community reacted to the film?
They’ve reacted to it with an enthusiasm and a passion that has dwarfed my sense of ego. It makes me very humble and happy. JC
Call Me By Your Name is out now on DVD/Blu Ray/VOD.
BFI Flare: London LGBTQ+ Film Festival
Call Me By Your Name is one of the films that will be featured on Second Chance Sunday at this year’s BFI Flare: London LGBTQ+ Film Festival. On 1st April, you can catch it on the big screen with a no doubt heavily blubbing gay audience for only £8. Also showing are God’s Own Country, Battle of the Sexes and this year’s awesome Chilean Oscar winner A Fantastic Woman.
Flare runs this year from 21st March to 1st April, featuring a range of outstanding LGBTQ+ movies. Highlights include the closing night film Postcards From London (with hot Beach Rats breakout star Harris Dickinson), the acclaimed French drama 120 Beats Per Minute (from the writer-director of Eastern Boys), Rupert Everett as the writer, director and star of the Oscar Wilde biopic The Happy Prince, the astonishing South African queer drama The Wound, the outrageously homoerotic Lebanese odyssey Martyr, and the upcoming mainstream gay teen romance Love, Simon. Plus much, much more! JC