Call Me By Your Name arrived at Leeds International Film Festival as one of its most anticipated films. The film is set across an early 80’s summer in an idyllic corner of northern Italy, where the food is fresh, the wine flows and conversations are loaded. Luca Guadagnino suffuses his film with a languid calm that belies the tensions driving the film. These are namely the romantic feelings felt by Elio (Timothee Chalamet) toward the academic guest of his father, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Their blossoming relationship is the centre of the piece but the film transcends the label of a ‘gay love-story’, with Elio navigating the tough and confusing path from late teenage to early adulthood in an emotionally true coming-of-age.
A child of academic parents, Elio is presented as an extremely precocious young man – proficient in languages, music, literature, and popular to boot. He and his family spend each summer in Italy and ‘paradise’ doesn’t quite cover it. Into the mix comes PHD student Oliver, whose brash American confidence is at once jarring and charming to Elio. The film, however, is in no rush to throw the two together, and it is a joy to watch the development of their friendship put before any romantic involvement.
The strength of the film is to keep peripheral characters within the orbit of this central relationship. Elio’s parents (beautifully played by Amira Casar and Michael Stuhlbarg) have an engaging dynamic and steal many scenes – Stuhlbarg’s delivery of a speech late in the film is spellbinding. A highlight for me was Elio’s would-be-girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel) who finds herself on the raw end of his and Oliver’s romance. Most films would have left the character there, but one of Call Me By Your Name’s masterstrokes is to include a tender reconciliation between Marzia and Elio. This was one of the many moments which convinced me the film was not, as I had worried, intelligentsia porn of the Charlie Kauffman variety.
Call Me By Your Name is a beautifully told story of first love and heartbreak which defies lazy labels and comparisons. A rich and sensual experience.