Call me by Your Name Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg. Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Rated R. Opens Friday in select theaters.
Director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash, I Am Love) is often better at conveying feeling and atmosphere than at constructing a narrative, so it’s a good thing his adaptation of André Aciman’s novel Call Me by Your Name is focused primarily on its languid vibe rather than on telling a detailed story. That works well for a movie told from the nostalgic perspective of a teenager discovering his sexuality and experiencing his first love, against the backdrop of one of those enchanted movie summers spent in an idyllic, isolated paradise.
The teenager here is Elio (Timothée Chalamet), son of an American university professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and an Italian translator (Amira Casar), and the setting is the summer of 1983 in a quaint northern Italian town, where Elio’s father is spending the season working on research. Elio himself has essentially no responsibilities, lounging by the pool, chasing local girls, playing music and generally indulging his every whim. His one irritation is having to give up his bedroom to visiting grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer), who’s spending part of the summer assisting Elio’s father with his work.
The cautious Elio and the more assertive Oliver begin a slow flirtation, neither one seemingly sure whether the other returns his interest. They both show confidence with women, and eventually they break through each other’s boundaries and begin a halting affair, both worried about being discovered by Elio’s family. Despite those worries, Name isn’t a movie about the persecution of gay people or the tortures of remaining in the closet; it’s a sensual celebration of young love and lust, with Guadagnino and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom shooting the attractive stars with the same loving, appreciative eye that they train on the equally gorgeous Italian countryside.
Chalamet is fantastic as the young man fumbling through exploring his identity, and Name is more of a coming-of-age story than a properly balanced romance. Hammer’s performance is strong as well, conveying Oliver’s boldness and charisma, but the character remains at an emotional distance, both from Elio and from the audience. The movie’s emotional climax comes not between Elio and Oliver, but between Elio and his father, in a heartfelt moment of connection as they share romantic regrets. That scene brings into focus what can sometimes be a meandering story, with too many drawn-out moments of mundane conversation. Even so, those moments have a cumulative effect on the characters, and the movie’s final shot is a devastating long take focused on Elio’s face, as all the emotions and experiences he’s had over that summer take their toll, marking him in a way that will stay with him for the rest of his life.