This romance film is one for the ages.
Adapted from the novel of the same name, Luca Guadagnino’s calm and sweet Call Me By Your Name details the blossoming summer love between a young man and his father’s teaching assistant in a secluded Italian villa (where apparently no one wears shirts) in the 1980s. Timothée Chalamet plays Elio, a 17-year-old Jewish Italian-American who hasn’t quite figured out who – or what – he is yet. Elio’s father Lyle Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor. Every summer he has scholars come to visit and assist him in his work. Enter Oliver, played by the delightful Armie Hammer, the latest student to assist Mr. Perlman.
Elio is quiet and contemplative, preferring to read and play music rather than engage with anyone. Oliver is the life of the of the party, sometimes seen as an arrogant American. He’s tall, alluring, handsome, and openly Jewish. This surprises Elio, as his family has made it a point to obscure this fact from others.
Almost immediately, Elio and Oliver develop an unspoken attraction for one another. Elio initially feels uncomfortable and cautious with these feelings, but after countless days and nights of music, swimming, reading, and drinking, the pair can’t help but eventually joyously give in to their desires.
Call Me By Your Name is unique in that it’s essentially a structureless film. There is no traditional three-act structure, no narrative arc. The film is the epitome of a slow-burner, preferring to take things slow and savor every quiet moment. While the film has a runtime of two hours, it feels closer to three due to its loose freeform structure.
You never know quite how long it’ll take for Elio and Oliver to inevitably get together, nor is it clear how much time they’ll actually have to spend together. Every bike ride to town shared, every conversation about literature, and each swimming session is given so much more meaning. Each moment spent together is assigned more emotional weight due to this uncertainty, as any one could be their last. Such is the nature of fleeting summer love.
Hammer is extremely charismatic as Oliver. He’s instantly likable, allowing us to easily sympathize with Elio for falling for him so hard. The frustrated young Elio is quite mature for his age, and Chalamet plays him to perfection. Both of these men have hapless women fawning over them, and we get to see them both wrestle with the fluidness of their sexuality.
When the pair finally begins their relationship, it’s this huge payoff that the film has been building towards. And it’s so worth it. Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet have such fantastic chemistry together, and are both perfect avatars for their respective characters. Their relationship is genuinely sweet and beautiful. We fall in love with the characters over the course of the film, which is why it’s an absolute joy to watch them overcome the ingrained tension of a gay relationship in the 1980s and just be happy with one another.
But alas, Oliver is only staying for the summer. This is just a summer romance. For Elio, this is his first true love, a perfect first romance, but Oliver knows that eventually, at some point, this will end in heartbreak. This doesn’t stop them from giving themselves to one another, however, and denying themselves even a short time of happiness. Call Me By Your Name is intently focused on one particular moment time, and the serious impact it can leave on one’s life. Elio and Oliver’s relationship is one for the ages, and the film manages to delight from beginning to end, all the way up to a ballsy ending sequence that feels incredibly earned.