Savannah Oakes’s review published on Letterboxd:
Directed by Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) and written by James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name, is a tender and passionate portrayal of first love between two young men--one coming into his adulthood and one just passed it.
Set over the summer of 1983 it follows Elio (Timothée Chalamet) a 17-year-old boy spending the summer in Italy with his parents. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor, has a tradition of letting a college graduate student working on his or her doctorate come stay with them every summer and this particular summer the student is 24-year-old, American Oliver (Armie Hammer). Despite a rocky start--Elio calls him “the usurper” upon setting eyes on him--and bad first impressions Elio and Oliver find they are both falling in love with one another and must decide how to handle this before the summer ends and Oliver is gone from their lives forever.
James Ivory, who has been trying to get the film made for quite some time, was originally set to direct the film and though he has done amazing work with his Merchant Ivory crew (Howards End, A Room with a View, The Remains of the Day, etc.) his initial urge to cast Shia Labeouf in this film would have been the first of some possibly disastrous decisions. Thankfully Luca Guadagnino took the directing chair and brings all the subtlety, charm and aesthetic needed to bring the passion of this love story to life.
Working in front of the camera is immense, untapped talent. The film stars young Timothée Chalamet in the lead role as well as supporting performances from Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg. Stuhlbarg is having quite a year and is the typical character actor whose face you will recognize and will continue to see more of. Hopefully you will learn his name because he continues to earn it and no more than in his performance here where the depths he keeps inside are seen even from early scenes and are revealed to be true in a small exchange between he and Chalamet’s Elio. Good actors remind you to trust their subtle moves--this is Stuhlbarg.
For our romantic leads, Chalamet is excellent playing both the observer and the teacher at the same time. He shoulders most of the film's weight as the film is from his perspective and though Armie Hammer is the object of his affection it is Chalamet that is forced to react. He is both cool and desperate at all moments.
Armie is indeed arrogant but light and sexy at the same time. A lot of this is done by his sheer Nazi-like physicality and strong jaw but also in his constant attempt at challenging Chalamet’s Elio. Not only with his overbearing, much larger figure but with his eyes with his playfulness.
The writing is lovely and the scenes are short and crisp. When they’re not there’s reason to be. Not every scene is necessary--some are just pure aesthetic savorings--but god are they fun.
Ivory in his adaptation of the André Aciman novel taps into one of his favorite themes of repression and with it longing. Through it we get endless images of sensuality representative of young Elio’s budding desire and the fear in him not knowing what to do with it or if it is requited. Images of apricots, peaches, dripping juices, the heat and the obvious and diminishing lack of clothing. My favorite is the sculptures dug up from the deep. The sensuality is obvious in the naked bodies but the idea of them being unearthed from the depths mirrors Elio discovering his own passion perfectly.
Something somewhat underdeveloped is the actual trust within their relationship. There is a lot of build up to the eventual consummation and then the audience is denied the sex scene. Director Guadagnino told The Hollywood Reporter that he wasn't interested in including explicit sex scenes in the film and that it conflicted with the tone he was going for. I agree the scene did not need to be explicit but seeing how a couple has sex, especially when it’s a first time, is important to understanding how the care and share with open another. Therefore I felt denied a significant part of their relationship and thus a chunk in their emotional development.
Call Me by Your Name is full of beautiful backdrops and a breathtaking villa that is both homey and otherworldly--a perfect colliding of Elio’s old world and new. The music is lovely--the piano a serene melody and an occasional swell that mirrors the love and passion that swirls deep within the two men. Chalamet is heartbreaking and Hammer is smoldering. It’s story is tender and treats its audience the same way. In a world where most of our LGBTQ characters are left for dead at the end it’s nice to see more care and concern displayed. There is heartbreak but there will always be so, as Mr. Perlman says, “But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything - what a waste!”