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Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name
Armie Hammer, left, and Timothée Chalamet star in "Call Me By Your Name," a coming-of-age romance set in Northern Italy. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

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Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language. Two hours, 12 minutes.
Publication date: Dec. 22, 2017
Review by Peter Canavese
Released: (2017)

The orchard surrounding an American family's sun-dappled Northern Italian 17-century villa bears peaches, cherries, apricots and pomegranates. And that's just the non-forbidden fruit in the sensual coming-of-age romance "Call Me By Your Name." The plot could be called a gay "Summer of '42" in its wistful pairing of a twenty-something and a teenager, but director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory apply a soulful sophistication to the complexities of first love, even more troubling as "the love that dare not speak its name."
 
Over six summer weeks in 1983, two young men meet, flirt, make passes, bond and develop a love for one another. Coltish 17-year-old Elio (a remarkable Timothée Chalamet) shares the villa with his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) and translator mother Annella (Amira Casar), but must give up his room every summer to Mr. Perlman's resident intern. This year it's 24-year-old American grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer), and as Elio moves to the adjoining room, he explains the intimate arrangement, in which the two share a bathroom ("It's my only way out").
 
From the very start, Elio's male gaze and precocious intellect take in everything about Oliver, from his strapping frame to his carefree attitude to his habit of ending a conversation with an insouciant "Later." By film's end, it's clear that everyone here also takes loving notice of Elio: his noninterventionist parents, his friend and wishful girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel), and Oliver, who tempers his sexual interest with at least some measure of caution, both for the sake of discretion and Elio's feelings.
 
As with most romances, "Call Me by Your Name" runs on conflicted emotions and social obstacles, here found in the subtext readable on faces and in anxious body language (as well as in two Sufjan Stevens songs penned for the film: "Mysteries of Love" and "Visions of Gideon"). Interest turns quickly to mutual annoyance then again to pained longing. When everything but the two men falls away, what remains is a deep connection, the nature of which the film doesn't need to spell out. Some will see it as pure love, some as purely sexual desire, some as unadvisable, some as improper. But an eleventh-hour monologue by a key character, carefully, tenderly acknowledges its specialness to Elio and refuses to judge it as anything but a milestone to be cherished.
 
Working from André Aciman's 2007 novel, Ivory has crafted one of the finest screenplays of the year, and using it, Guadagnino has coaxed from his cast a film unmatched this year for lifelike rhythms and attention to human behavior. Since it's also a travelogue filigreed with fragments of antique European art, literature and philosophy, it's also a gorgeous, reflective film that unfolds at a deceptively lazy pace: in point of fact, there's not a moment in it that isn't necessary.