By Brian Goins
Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name,” based on the novel by André Aciman, is a quiet, subtle and unassuming exploration of coming of age sexuality and love.
Elio, a brooding and creative 17-year-old, meets Oliver, who arrives at their Italian villa to spend the summer as his father’s research assistant. The attraction is that of quiet admiration at first, all seen through the eyes of Elio. Oliver is a brash American who must be straight. Every fleeting touch or glance — intentional or not — inspires a feast of mystery.
A friendship blossoms, and although the attraction ebbs and flows, the focus of their relationship is upon what’s not said instead of spoken.
Soon, Elio assumes that Oliver is initiating a sexual relationship with one of the village girls, and the attraction and jealousy bubble to the top.
Even when they finally admit their attraction to each other, it is through unspoken means, talking around it — literally — and never speaking the words. They make a date to see each other.
But Elio, still figuring out what his desires are, continues to see and explore a sexual relationship with Marzia, a childhood friend who has been smitten with him.
The film is not content on feeding clichés about sexuality, but rather illustrating how sexuality and desires, much like anything in life, ebbs and flows.
Elio’s and Oliver’s mutual desire and attraction continues to grow, even though they know an end to their union is near.
For Elio, played by newcomer Timothée Chalamet, it finally blossoms into love — and eventual heartbreak. Chalamet’s performance, in particular, is something of triumph. Both precocious and immature, Chalamet is a visual masterpiece on screen. The curiosity he displays fuels the viewers’ curiosity in him. Is he strong? Is he feminine? It’s all of the things he must be somehow working through himself. And, although small and full of youth, Elio exudes a quiet confidence tempered by his unformed desires.
Armie Hammer’s Oliver, a more obvious masculine male, offers as much vulnerability and surprising softness: His appearance and character transforms for the audience through Elio’s impressions of him.
The film plays on those expectations and stereotypes expertly: The smaller boy should be vulnerable; the bigger athletic boy should be more forceful. But here, those roles are as fluid as they are in real life, with each of the characters cascading to each stage depending on the setting and the emotion.
The cinematography and direction are superb, illustrating the slow, sultry lifestyle of the summer Italian countryside as a backdrop for the summer love story. The days are spent lounging and playing — and the research work seems scant.
And sometimes, the film seems misplaced. Set in the early 1980s, the film explores what it is like to have unrequited love in an era when it is not okay to be out. Culture and location have a play here, as Elio’s parents have a quiet knowing about the relationship and soon verbalize their support for him.
As a viewer in today’s political and cultural landscape, it is both refreshing and alarming to see this theme being explored again in a backdrop that is isolated from gay culture or politics.
Additionally, for a film that is labeled as LGBTQ+ cinema, there are very few scenes of actual gay intimacy. There are straight sex scenes, and then there are erotic gay scenes — but while the straight scenes are front and center, most of the gay scenes are offscreen and implied.
But the real triumph is the idea that Elio’s sexuality isn’t fully formed to begin with. He obviously isn’t sure, and explores what he wants as opposed to what feels good and what he thinks he’s supposed to want.
Sexuality and falling in love are two separate things, and the film expertly makes that distinction: A true love story dripping with desire has no place for labels or for stereotypes.
GO SEE IT
What: “Call Me By Your Name”
Run time: 131 minutes
When: Opens Jan. 19 at Regal Green Hills, 3815 Green Hills Village Dr., Nashville.
For showtimes, visit the theater’s web site.