Movie review: Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of the André Aciman novel captures that swimmy, lost-and-found feeling of what it’s like to be young, with a heart and a body new to passionate love and longing. 3.5 stars out of 4.
“Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once,” says a wise father (Michael Stuhlbarg) near the end of Luca Guadagnino’s swoonworthy love story “Call Me By Your Name.” It’s a line from the movie’s source novel (by André Aciman, adapted masterfully by James Ivory), exemplifying its mood: that swimmy, lost-and-found feeling of what it’s like to be young, with a heart and a body that are new to passionate love and longing.
It’s summer 1983, in a beautiful villa in the northern Italian countryside; a handsome American graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer), has arrived for a summer of study, staying in the home of his professor (Stuhlbarg). He’s watched, from his first moments of arrival, by 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), who’s fascinated by Oliver’s movie-star looks, his casual way of saying “Later!,” his appetite for summer fruit (it’s an understatement to say that Guadagnino eroticizes peaches here), his short shorts and billowy shirts. Heat shimmers in the orchards, and you can feel the cool of the villa’s quiet rooms.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Call Me By Your Name,’ with Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, from a screenplay by James Ivory, based on the novel by André Aciman. 131 minutes. Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language. Opens Dec. 22 at several theaters.
Elio, moving slowly through indolent summer days, begins to realize what it is that he feels for Oliver; why he’s uncomfortable when Oliver casually puts a hand on his arm, and why he worries about what the older man (there are seven years between them) thinks of him. Slowly, as if in a delicate tango, the two move toward each other, and “Call Me By Your Name” becomes the story of a connection, both sexual and emotional. Guadagnino has explored this territory before (see his equally gorgeous “I Am Love,” in which Tilda Swinton plays an Italian wife in a passionate affair with a much-younger man), and he’s a master at finding electricity in a glance, beauty in a beam of sunlight, an entire story in the whisper of one name.
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And the film is a glorious welcome-to-the-big-leagues debut for Chalamet, who’s been making movies for a few years (he played Matthew McConaughey’s son in “Interstellar,” and appears in this season’s “Lady Bird”), but has never had a role like this. As Elio, he’s both old for his age (he’s got a suave, practiced sophistication) and heartbreakingly young. “I just wanted to be with you,” he says to Oliver, all coolness dropped like a cloak on the floor; he’s all quivering yearning. Stay in your seat while the final credits roll, and watch the story continue on Chalamet’s silent face, simultaneously crying, trying not to cry, and growing older before our eyes. We know he’ll love again, but he doesn’t; at least, not yet.