A heartsong painted in a peachy palette, Guadagnino’s latest is a swoonsome tribute to first love. Sumptuous.
What’s in a name? Or a peach, for that matter? Set “somewhere in Northern Italy,” in the pungent embrace of a swelteringly sumptuous summer in 1983, names (and peaches) have power in A Bigger Splash and I Am Love director Luca Guadagnino’s glowing take on André Aciman’s queer coming-of-age novel Call My By Your Name.
Starring chisel-jawed Armie Hammer as Oliver, a 20-something student of antiquity, he descends on this paradise on earth with all-American swagger –“later” – to study under a mentor played with dashing grace by Michael Stuhlbarg, almost stealing the show with a near-end heartfelt speech.
Taken into the professor’s home, Oliver ingratiates himself with his French wife Anella (Amira Cassar), but not so much with their 17-year-old son Elio, an incandescent breakthrough for a rakish Timothée Chalamet, announcing himself as a star in the making.
If, at first, Elio feels snubbed by the older intruder, then pretty soon his need to be seen unveils itself as a secretly nurtured infatuation, all stolen sniffs of sports shorts and heavy-lidded glances at poolside dalliances. A film all about communication, faltering and then sung heartily, that which an at times awkward and gawky Elio cannot name is shared more keenly by Oliver than he can, at first, allow himself to imagine.
Playing out almost as if a game, their ever-decreasing circle spins gently unto each other, gifting their names unto each other with the tacit approval of both the younger man’s parents in a film that, despite the age difference involved, never feels like anything less than mutual, respectful love gently unfurling.
Though Aciman’s source material was published in 2007, this richly drawn dance around church square monuments and piano stool solos feels like a classic from the E.M Forster era, replete with midnight balcony trysts and charged eroticism loaded in biblical imagery. Chalamet is a revelation, ably aided by Hammer’s generous support.
Guadagnino once more relishes the electric hum of what’s left hung in the air unspoken, tracing an emotionally mature, magnetic movie. This subtle hand, even as lust reveals itself, is boosted immeasurably by James Ivory’s adapted screenplay, one half of those heaving romance purveyors Merchant Ivory, and also by the impeccable framing of cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeepromand.
By summer’s end and a train station platform farewell, hearts so tenderly entwined like the seasons pass, but not without leaving their mark indelibly in a monument to first love. By far the best of the Boxing Day offerings, Call Me By Your Name, in the last gasp of 2017, announces itself as one of the year’s finest in a gloriously worthy crowd that, astride movies like Moonlight and God’s Own Country, has been particularly exemplary on the queer front.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords