Call Me by Your Name ★★★★½

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a lot of things you might not expect from a late year “prestige” film. It’s an experiential intimate drama centered on a small story where sensory details matter as much as plot. It’s a catapult for young star Timothée Chalamet (who also shines in this year’s LADY BIRD) and a reinvigoration for Armie Hammer (who feels more at home here than he does in most of his recent attempts at mainstream leading man flicks). But most of all, it’s a fantastic romantic drama that lacks sensationalism, the effect of which is to cast a quiet, melancholy and beautiful spell on its audience.

As directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by James Ivory (of Merchant-Ivory, who used to specialize in arthouse films that featured Americans abroad), CALL ME BY YOUR NAME tells the story of Elio (Chalamet) as he summers in northern Italy with his academic parents. His family is soon joined by Oliver (Hammer), a grad student tasked with assisting Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). The two young men strike up a friendship which eventually develops into a romance. Guadagnino and Ivory seem most interested in observing a coming of age episode for young Elio. As much as Hammer excels in his role as Oliver, this is Chalamet’s story. He has to play many subtle facets of his character, which he does while revealing great depths of humanity.

From the opening moments of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, you can feel you’re in for something special. The score by Sufjan Stevens trills playfully on a bright piano while photos of Italy with the credits boldly written across them parade on screen. As the action begins, you can tell you’re in the hands of a director who works well with actors. Every dynamic feels thoroughly natural and Chalamet exudes an easy confidence as the son of cosmopolitan parents who has a natural curiosity even as he masks his insecurity with unearned plays at maturity. His interest in Oliver begins a process in which he peels away his artificial layers and reveals himself for the child he is. After this revelation, the romance between Elio and Oliver can begin in earnest – a romance that will be instrumental in Elio’s growth.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME does a lot without seeming like it’s trying to do much at all, which I think is its real trick. It finds profundity in observing moments that feel impossibly true without resorting to imposing outside influences or artificial stakes. I think of a beautiful moment when Elio and Oliver are out romancing in the city together and are drawn off the streets by the sound of a car playing one of Oliver’s favorite songs. They find the car and Oliver dances to the music beneath a streetlight outside an ancient building while Elio sadly watches. There’s a melancholy that comes with knowing the summer will end.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME allows everyone involved to shine. As a director, Guadagnino does not have a particular style I can point to as indicative of his work, but he gets great contributions from all of his collaborators. The result is a piece of work that feels extremely generous and giving, like basking beneath an Italian sun even as the chill of winter bites at its tail. In a year full of important films, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME may not have the urgency of other titles, but it’s got craft and feeling to spare.

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