“Call Me By Your Name” is a warm, romantic film that derives much of its romance from a gorgeous setting and a laid-back summer vibe. The action primarily takes place on a heavenly Villa tucked away somewhere in Northern Italy, near a quaint little village complete with old stone architecture. The property is dotted with fertile peach and apricot trees. An ornate, stone pool sits off to the side. A secluded river is within walking distance and an azure lake is only a quick drive away. Paradise.
It’s here that seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothy Chalamet) spends his summer with his archeologist father (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), mother Annella (Amira Caeser) and Oliver (Armie Hammer, more leg than man in this movie) his father’s strapping summer research assistant. Elio spends his days writing music, drinking fresh apricot juice and having casual romantic flings. What a life. But it won’t last forever.
Directed by Luca Guadagino, “Call Me By Your Name” acutely captures the joyous highs and bittersweet lows of summer vacation. You can do anything you want. You can sleep in. You can sit by the pool and read your book all day. You can go skinny dipping at midnight. You can even have an affair with an older American college student (more on that soon). Obligations to work and school are nil. Time itself seems to have stopped. Of course, we know all this pleasure and freedom is short lived. Summer will end and reality will set in. The same can be said for the film’s central relationship—it’s impassioned and felt but also transient. Like the summer in Italian Eden, it must also come to end.
The movie put me in such a relaxed state of mind that I was more than ready to be invested in the drama of the central romance. Elio begins a relationship with Oliver. Oliver is smoother and more assured of himself while Elio is a little awkward and still trying to figure out who he is. They share a quiet and thoughtful bond. There are no lengthy courting sessions; they don’t have effortless romantic banter. Sometimes there are days where they barely interact with each other.
The relationship is based more on subtle glances and physical gestures. It’s a physical relationship without being overly sexual, although it does eventually reach that point. There’s a natural energy between them that gradually turns to lust. Guadagino takes his time in developing their attraction, which makes the moment they finally consummate the relationship immensely satisfying and even a little surprising.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning the controversial aspect of “Call Me By Your Name:” Oliver is twenty-five and Elio is seventeen. It’s an uncomfortable, divisive issue that the movie doesn’t directly address. Some viewers (especially American) will be unable to look past the age difference and I can’t really fault them for that. But aside from the fact that the movie is set in nineteen eighty-three and in Italy (where the age of consent is fourteen) I wasn’t bothered by the relationship because of how well Guadagino handles it. Their relationship could have been more explicit and exploitive but instead it’s tender and respectful. Had Oliver been more of manipulator or an abuser, I would have a harder time with the film but he and Elio are so gentle and considerate in their one on one scenes. We can feel their affection. In theory, the relationship is problematic but when you see the way they look at each other that concern melts away.
Ultimately, I think I was charmed by “Call Me By Your Name” more for the romanticized setting and the breezy summer vibes it emits in every sundrenched frame than Elio and Oliver’s affair but their relationship is still passionate and meaningful, making the film’s inevitably bittersweet resolution devastating to watch.