“call me by your name”: an erotic triumph

Luca Guadagnino’s sensuous film evokes the transformations of young love.Illustration by Bianca Bagnarelli
The new film by Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me by Your Name,” begins in the summer of 1983, in a place so enchanted, with its bright green gardens, that it belongs in a fairy tale. The location, the opening credits tell us, is “Somewhere in Northern Italy.” Such vagueness is deliberate: the point of a paradise is that it could exist anywhere but that, once you reach the place, it brims with details so precise in their intensity that you never forget them. Thus it is that a young American named Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives, dopey with jet lag, at the house of Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) & his Italian wife, Annella (Amira Casar), whose custom is to lớn spend their summers there và also khổng lồ return for Hanukkah. (Like them, Oliver is Jewish; a closeup shows a Star of David hanging from a chain around his neck.) The Professor, an American expert in classical archeology, requires an annual assistant, and Oliver is this year’s choice. “We’ll have lớn put up with him for six long weeks,” Annella says, with a sigh. Not long enough, as it turns out. You can pack a whole lifetime into six weeks.

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The first words of the film are “The usurper.” They are uttered by the Perlmans’ only child—their son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), who is seventeen. He stands at an upstairs window with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel) & watches Oliver below, fearful that the American may break the reigning peace. The Professor is more welcoming, & he proposes a kind of không tính tiền trade, both spatial và emotional, that will resound throughout. “Our home is your home,” he says khổng lồ Oliver. “My room is your room,” Elio adds, a few seconds later, lượt thích an echo. He has moved into the adjoining room for the duration of Oliver’s stay, và they must nói qua a bathroom. The sharing will deepen, from handshakes to confidences, and from cigarettes to kisses and other mouthly charms, concluding in the most profound exchange of all, whispered from a few inches’ distance và proclaimed in the title of the movie.

“Call Me by Your Name” is, among other things, an exercise in polyglottery, and Elio chats lớn his parents và friends in an easy blend of English, French, and Italian, sometimes sliding between tongues in the course of a single conversation. (Who would guess that a household, no less than a city, can be a melting pot?) His father và Oliver enjoy a clash of wits about the twisted root of the word “apricot,” tracing it through Arabic, Latin, & Greek, and mentioning that one branch leads to lớn the word “precocious”—a nod to lớn Elio, who listens to them with half a smile. He is a prodigy, voraciously bookish, who plays Bach al fresco on the guitar & then inside on the piano, in the manner of Liszt & of Busoni, with Oliver standing in the background, contrapposto, with the elegant tilt of a statue, drinking in the sound và the skill. “Is there anything you don’t know?” he asks, after Elio has told him about an obscure, bloody battle of the First World War.

Prodigies can be a pain, onscreen and off, và Elio—fevered with boyish uncertainties & thrills, though no longer a boy, and already rich in adult accomplishments, yet barely a man—should be an impossible role. Somehow, as if by magic, Chalamet makes it work, và you can’t imagine how the film could breathe without him. His expression is sharp & inquisitive, but cream-pale và woundable, too, & saved from solemnity by the grace of good humor; when Oliver says that he has to take care of some business, Elio retorts by impersonating him khổng lồ his face. Chalamet is quite something, but Hammer is a match for him, as he needs khổng lồ be, if the characters’ passions are khổng lồ be believed. Elio is taken aback, at the start, by Oliver’s swagger—the hesitant youth, steeped in Europe, confronted with can-do American chops. Hammer doesn’t strut, but his every action, be it dismounting a bicycle, draining a glass of juice (apricot, of course), slinging a backpack over his shoulder, rolling sideways into a pool, or demolishing a boiled egg at breakfast until it’s a welter of spilled yolk suggests a person almost aggressively at trang chủ in his own body, & thus in the larger world. Hence the abrupt chú ý that he sends to Elio: “Grow up. See you at midnight.”

You could, I suppose, regard Oliver as the incarnation of soft power. Certainly, his handsomeness is so extreme that the camera tends lớn be angled up at him, as if at one of the ancient bronze deities over which the Professor enthuses. When Oliver wades in a cold stream one glorious day, you stare at him và think, My God, he is a god. And yet, as he and Elio lounge on sun-warmed grass, it’s Oliver who seems unmanned, & it’s Elio who lays a purposeful hand directly on Oliver’s crotch. Now one, now the other appears the more carnally confident of the two. They take a while lớn find parity & poise, but, once they do, they are inextricable, rendered equal by ardor; the first shot of them, at dawn, after they sleep together, is of limbs so entangled that we can’t tell whose are whose. As for their parting, it is wordless. They look at one another and just nod, as if lớn say, Yes, that was right. That was how it is meant khổng lồ be.

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The screenplay of “Call Me by Your Name,” adapted from André Aciman’s novel of the same title, is by James Ivory. He has done a remarkable job, paring away pasts & futures, and leaving us with an overwhelming surge of now. On the page, events are recounted, in the first person, by an older Elio, gazing backward, but Chalamet’s Elio lacks the gift of hindsight. In any case, why is it a gift? Who wouldn’t prefer lớn be in the thick of love? The book is a mature và thoughtful vintage; in the film, we’re still picking the grapes.

It’s tempting to lớn speculate how Ivory, who, as the director of “A Room with a View” (1985) và of “Maurice” (1987), showed his mastery of Italian settings & of same-sex romance, might have fared at the helm of the new film. The rhythm, I suspect, would have been more languorous, as if the weather had seeped into people’s lazy bones, whereas Guadagnino, an instinctive modernist, is more incisive. He and his longtime editor, Walter Fasano, keep cutting short the transports of delight; the lovers pedal away from us, on bikes, khổng lồ the lovely strains of Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite,” only for the scene to lớn hit the brakes. “Call Me by Your Name” is suffused with heat, and piled high with fine food, but it isn’t a nice movie; you see it not khổng lồ unwind but khổng lồ be wound up—to be unrelaxed by the force with which rapture strikes. There is even a gratifying cameo by a peach, which proves useful in an erotic emergency, & merits an Academy Award for Best Supporting Fruit.

The film’s release could not be more propitious. So assailed are we by reports of harmful pleasures, and of the coercive male will being imposed through lust, that it comes as a relief lớn be reminded, in such style, of consensual joy. “I don’t want either of us lớn pay for this,” Oliver says. By falling for each other, he and Elio tumble not into error, still less into sin, but into a sort of delirious concord, which may explain why Elio’s parents, far from disapproving, bestow their tacit blessing on the pact. More unusual still is that the movie steers away from the politics of sexuality. Elio makes love to lớn Marzia, on a dusty mattress, in a loft lượt thích an old dovecote, only hours before he meets with Oliver at midnight, but you don’t think, Oh, Elio’s having straight sex, followed by gay sex, and therefore we must rank him as bi-curious. Rather, you are curious about him and his paramours as individuals—these particular bodies, with these hungry souls, at these ravening moments in their lives. Desire is passed around the movie like a dish, and the characters are invited lớn help themselves, each khổng lồ his or her own taste. Maybe a true love story (and when did you last see one of those?) has no time for types.

Not that anything endures. Late in the film, the Professor sits with his son on a couch, smokes, and talks of what has occurred. We expect condescension, instead of which we hear a confession. “I envy you,” he tells Elio, adding, “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty.” He once came near, he admits, lớn having what Elio và Oliver had, but something stood in the way, and he advises his child lớn seize the day, including the pain that the day brings, while he is still young: “Before you know it, your heart is worn out.” Much of this long speech is taken from Aciman’s novel, but Stuhlbarg delivers it beautifully, with great humility, tapping his cigarette. After which, it seems only natural that so rich a movie should close with somebody weeping, beside a winter fire. The shot lasts for minutes, as did the final shot of Michael Haneke’s “Hidden” (2005), but Haneke wanted to stoke our paranoia and our dread, while Guadagnino wants us lớn reflect, at our leisure, on love: on what a feast it can be, on how it turns with the seasons, và on why it ends in tears. ♦


Anthony Lane has been a film critic for The New Yorker since 1993. He is the tác giả of “Nobody’s Perfect.”
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