A father, portrayed astonishingly by the great Michael Stuhlberg has a conversation with his teenaged son about love in this film, and it is acted with breathtaking clarity yet simplicity. A father, well-educated, liberal is quietly letting his son know that in all instances love is love, that we have no control over who we love, and provided the love is consensual, it is fine, something to be celebrated. Beautifully written, nicely directed, but it is the clear-eyed sincerity of Stuhlberg who makes the scene come to life.
Since Sundance last January, nearly a year ago, critics have raved about the coming of age film Call Me By Your Name, a breathtaking first love story made with such care and love you cannot help be carried away by the film. Based on the novel of the same name, written for the screen by Academy Award nominated director James Ivory, who gave us A Room with a View (1986), Howard’s End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993) the elderly Ivory has captured with extraordinary honesty and intensity the beauty, that all-consuming ferocity of first love. Like Brokeback Mountain (2005) the fact the love is between two men matters not, as we are swept into the story by its conviction and truth.
What is it about first love? That we realize for the first time what it to care for someone on a level so deep it frightens and excites us? Exploring another’s body for the first time, being naked and vulnerable with one we would die for that very first time, walking around as though on a cloud? Is it the sex? That first initial contact with on you love, one you’ll die for when your bodies become one? My first love lasted three years, from the last year of high school to the second year of university, and when it ended I thought my life was over. Yet as Woody Allen states, “the heart is a very resilient muscle” and I loved again, meeting the love of my life six years later.
Yet first love stays with you, it is always there it seems, not quite haunting one, but there like a ghost reminding us of the beauty of that discovery, of our potential to love and to be loved.
That kind of love is explored in this beautiful film. The major difference being it is love between two men. That said it is no less pure, no less powerful, no less heartbreaking. How great is it we have come to this point in history where cinema can explore relationships free of concern for gender.
Every summer Professor Perlman (Stuhlberg) hires a young doctoral student to help with his research while spending the summer in sun drenched Italy. This year the student is a striking young man, Oliver (Armie Hammer) the sort of young man possessed of beauty that even men recognize as beautiful.Much to his surprise Elio (Timothy Chalamet) falls in love, or at least lust with Oliver, bringing to light his first struggles with his sexuality. Oliver sees it, though is cautious to act because Elio is seven years young, just seventeen, and his father is his employer. But like the intense heat of the Italian summer, the two find their own heat, gradually coming together, each aware of where the relationship is going.
When Professor Perlman drops his guard and speaks with his son, it is an astonishing scene. I am not sure in the history of the cinema, there has ever been such a moment between father and son, one of such blinding honesty and naked vulnerability. Love is love he is saying to his son, trusting the young man to understand exactly what he means. In baring his soul to his son, he is in fact gifting the young man with the courage to live his life as he wants, to follow his heart.
Stuhlberg has been on my radar since his immensely likeable and goofy performance in Men in Black III (2010) and his wonderful work on Boardwalk Empire for HBO. His eyes bore into his son during that final monologue, and throughout the film he is ever watchful. It is a profoundly great performance that jumps into the Oscar race for supporting actor. He establishes himself here, forever as one of the great character actors of his generation.
Hammer is a revelation as the gorgeous Oliver, the wet dream of every gay man I suspect. Intelligent, knowing he does not wish to use Elio, or to hurt him, he is a good guy, a surprising decent man, very aware of the younger man’s attention, but more of his own.
Timothy Chalamet might be the find of the year, brilliant here, portraying Elio with flinty honesty and a profound sense of, not quite innocence, but both maturity beyond his years and yet an immaturity. Watch how he’s lying shares with Elio how he could sleep with a girl he knows well, just to get a reaction which the older man picks up on at once. It is a bold, intelligent performance in a demanding, difficult role. The scene where his father speaks to him is made stronger by the manner this young actor simply listens, is present in every way.
All three should be in the Oscar race. Director James Ivory a three time Best Director nominee wrote the screenplay, adapting it from the novel and his work is exquisite. This could very well bring the veteran his Academy Award.
Director Luca Guadagnino directs the film with a confidence that is exciting to see in an emerging filmmaker. He gently guides the actors, encouraging them always to greater heights, keeps the sex scenes toned down, and allows the intense heat it sun dappled Italy to be a second character. A brilliant, daring film that is easily among Years best and an Oscar contender in many categories.