Quietly lurking with the wisdom and finesse of a lost piece of Greek pottery, “Call Me By Your Name” gently speaks a million life lessons in 132 minutes. It’s a forbidden love story that’s not so forbidden, a gay romance that borders more on friendship than homosexuality. But most importantly, and most impressively, the movie is a chronicling of a coming-of-age and how the wrong piece can fit itself in just the right way in our life’s puzzle.
The romance here is shared between Elio, an intelligent, soulful teenager played by Timothee Chalamet, and Oliver, a genetically-gifted scholar who is crashing with Elio’s family in the Italian countryside for the summer. Their time is gleefully spent doing nothing, where the single hardest decision Elio and Oliver have to make each day is where they want to go swimming. Shyness blooms into mild conversation, mild conversation evolves into deep friendship, with Elio becoming increasingly distraught and distant over his confusing feelings.
In a roundabout way, and with surprisingly intentional encouragement from his parents, Elio shares his feelings with Oliver, who initially rebukes his attraction but ultimately relents. Their romance is able to blossom because of this small town, adorned with historic buildings that always seem empty, filled with townspeople who always seem to be looking at something else in the distance. It’s set in 1983 but it feels like it could take place anytime, where we’re unsure if we’ve just witnessed a single moment pass or an entire week.
That ephemeral, carefree feel is owed to director Luca Guadagnino and writer James Ivory. Watching this movie is the closet thing you’ll get to reliving a childhood summer day, where no clocks or wristwatches are needed, the only necessary timekeeping being when Elio’s mom rings the bell for dinner. While Hammer and Chalamet are almost physical opposites, Guadagnino doesn’t make their coupling feel forced, showing a tenderness that is void of any dominance.
But “Call Me By Your Name” wouldn’t be an exemplar of quality filmmaking if it weren’t for Hammer and Chalamet. Hammer hits every beat and note of his character, without question his single best performance yet on film. But Chalamet is the one who takes our breath away, his nimble frame somehow holding a waterfall of emotion. Every inch of the curly-haired actor’s body is devoted to this performance. He communicates with his eyes, his head nod, the pace of his footsteps and the arching of his back. He never says just exactly what is on his mind, but we always know what he is thinking through his body language. That’s a remarkably rare skill for any actor to have, let alone master. The fact that Chalamet managed to in his early 20s is nothing short of extraordinary.
It’s a wonderful landmark film, one that doesn’t preach or prod or even advocate, despite its subject matter. Here, we see the rare example on film when characters are actually supportive of the unconventional romance. At one point, Hammer’s character shares his worries that how he, being so much older, might have messed up Chalamet through their encounter. Chalamet disagrees and says he didn’t, and the rest of the film is focused mainly on them enjoying their time together. We don’t care about the implications of their romance or what it means today. We’re just happy to wander with these wistful strangers in an eternal, Italian summer.