There are three stars in "Call Me by Your Name," director Luca Guadignino's beautiful new film: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet and the northern Italian city of Crema.
The lush landscapes of the auteur's hometown are depicted so sensually and delicately they are the perfect backdrop for a budding romance between a 17-year-old and a 20-something intern.
Elio (Chalamet) and Oliver (Hammer) don't dive head first into love in this story set in 1983. First they wade into the billowing waters of their Italian estate's pool and the town's crystalline lake. The seeds of infatuation are sowed, albeit slowly, over the course of six weeks, as Oliver assists Elio's archaeology professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) with various tasks. The days at times border on mundane, but the film's dazzling cinematography and style fend off monotony.
In fact, Guadignino's framing and cuts help demonstrate the developing desire we see in Elio. There are shots positioned behind the young man as he gazes out the window longingly at Oliver, making us accomplices in his voyeurism. Elio, incredibly smart and a gifted classical musician, takes a liking to Oliver, a handsome, strapping American, as everyone else around him does, but is not as forthright with his affection.
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Elio furtively explores his sexuality before coming out to Oliver. In a sensual scene, Elio kisses Oliver, who receives his advance before pulling away in a bid to keep things acceptable. Time passes between this overture. Elio becomes involved with a French girl, but promptly ditches her and disappears once he finally consummates his relationship with Oliver.
The sex scene between the men is super sensual, just like the rest of the film, but still subtle. The camera pans to the window as the steamiest acts are suggested.
Chalamet, a world away from his fine work in "Lady Bird," is a young actor to watch. Here he conveys the longing and frustration that are crucial to lust and love. Hammer, head-to-toe handsome, doesn't have to do much to be desirable, but his acting has nuance. His Oliver is smart without being smug. He shows genuine affection and empathy for youthful Elio.
As with most love stories, this one adapted from Andre Aciman's book of the same name, heartbreak is inevitable. Oliver eventually has to leave this stunning place. When Elio feels the emptiness and suffering that surface in his love's absence, his understanding father – especially since it's the '80s – reminds him how fortunate he was to have something so beautiful.
Something like the same is true for the audiences of this stirring movie.