Nearly a year after it debuted at Sundance, here, finally, is the most critically beloved film of 2017 — a lush, languid summer romance that’s just about as good as everyone says.
Despite the wealth of complex emotions on display, “Call Me By Your Name” is pretty simple. The film, set in 1983, follows a sensitive 17-year-old named Elio (Timothée Chalamet) who lives in a palatial home in the Italian countryside with his parents. Each summer, Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archeology, invites a research assistant to stay with them. This year’s guest is Oliver (Armie Hammer), a strapping and confident young American.
Elio is initially annoyed by Oliver’s carefree attitude. But his irritation soon gives way to intrigue, attraction and, finally, obsession.
“Call Me By Your Name” was adapted by James Ivory from André Aciman’s novel, and lovers of Merchant-Ivory adaptations will find plenty to swoon over here. Like “Howard’s End” or “A Room With a View,” this is a film about the pleasures of watching rich people talk intellectually amid beautiful scenery. But it’s something more than that, too.
Ivory was originally slated to direct, but instead found a collaborator in Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. And thank God for that.
Guadagnino’s style is more loose and vibrant than Ivory’s. To “Call Me By Your Name,” he’s brought a greater naturalism and a more singular strain of melancholy than the film might have had otherwise.
Guadagnino makes some fine choices here — starting with the decision to commission a few new Sufjan Stevens songs for the movie.
But where Guadagnino succeeded brilliantly was in creating an environment where his actors could give some of the best performances of their careers. The three leading men are all wonderful in their own way, but Chalamet (a 22-year-old actor previously seen in “Interstellar” and “Lady Bird”) is unforgettable.
Few films take the time for a character or performance to be so complete. Elio is allowed countless idiosyncrasies — some on the page, some likely the invention of Chalamet.
He’s teeming with humanity. Which makes it pretty easy to feel for what the guy’s going through. Questioning his sexuality for perhaps the first time. Feeling shame for a few of his desires (maybe you’ve heard about the film’s peach scene). Overwhelmed with uncertainty.
Does Oliver feel the same way? Will he reject Elio, hurt him? And when Oliver leaves in a few weeks, where will that leave Elio?
Elio and Oliver’s slow romance has some of the smart, scintillating chatter of Richard Linklater’s “Before” films. But the bulk of the emotions are expressed by faces and bodies. Because sometimes language alone won’t do.
Guadagnino and Ivory know when to shut up and let the camera run as moments of joy, uncertainty or heartbreak play out across the actors’ faces.
“Call Me By Your Name” is a movie that values atmosphere over incident, and its deliberate pace will prove plodding for some. But if you allow yourself to get caught up in the love story, you’ll find a film with a wealth of feeling too big for words.
* * *
Call Me By Your Name
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and some language
Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes
Theaters: opens Friday at Alamo, Oakview and Ruth Sokolof; preview screenings at Oakview Thursday