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Italy/France/Brazil/USA 2017
Directed by
Luca Guadagnino
132 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Call Me By Your Name

Synopsis: During the summer of 1983 Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is a 17-year old American vacationing with his family in the north of Italy. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an academic, welcomes as a research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer) and Elio discovers first love.

Here we go with another rapturously received film (cf. last year's Moonlight) that I had difficulty getting enthused over. Which is not to say that Call Me By Your Name is not a well-made film but the praise has been less about production values and more about its sensitivity rather than its formal qualities

Whilst I would agree in some measure with this evaluation director Luca Guadagnino does stack the deck by setting his story during a glorious Italian summer in a picturesquely ancient town, and in particular in an antique-filled villa whose multi-lingual occupants spend languid days reading to each other, pondering classical Greco-Roman statuary and dining al fresco. It’s all so idyllically “Italian” (Guadagnino even gives us visual clichés like the old peasant woman shelling peas in front of a rusticated wall and carefully choreographs the movement of people and vehicles to seem unpremeditated) that we know we are in the realm if not of art, then art cinema (of which Italy was one of the leading lights in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the period in which this film is set. We even get a reference to Luis Buñuel and a pointed reminder that cinema mirrors live. This is not even mentioning Chalamet’s youthful beauty (somewhat reminiscent of Visconti’s Tadzio in Death In Venice (1971) or Hammer’s more robust good looks.

All this makes a perfect setting for this story of awaking Eros as Elio dallies with a young female friend, Marzia (Esther Garrel), but is more powerfully drawn to Oliver, who keeps a cautious distance from him (. The film which was scripted by James Ivory from a novel by Andre Aciman is the story of these two relationships with the bulk of it leaning towards that of Elio and Oliver. As a study of male erotic love Call Me By Your Name is fastidiously tasteful (at the consummation of their attraction the camera cuts away to a open window) although dramatically speaking what was it about Oliver beyond a certain self-possession that spurred Elio’s ardour is never really made evident (or for that matter exactly what Oliver does with himself all day other than look sporty in his Adidas shorts). Adding to the romance it is Elio who effectively instigates the physical side of things wih Oliver remaining sensibly restrained "(I want to be good" he tells the groping Elio). Had it been the other way around it would have been more interesting albeit controversially so.

More problematically once that consummation is arrived at there really isn’t anywhere to the film to go. Had it stopped there it would have been a quite satisfying love story but instead we get Elio raping a peach, he and Oliver go on a pointless trip to Bergamot, there a bizarre expositional heart-to-heart in which Elio’s Dad commends his son for doing what he never did, and a telephone call from Oliver that ties up the story. All of this could have been left on the cutting room floor, indeed, should have been.

It is a credit to Guadagnino who is well-assisted by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography that he has managed to make such a studiously tasteful film the object of so much critical enthusiasm although one suspects as with Moonlight, which was also about a tentative homosexual relationship, that political correctness has had more than a minor part to play.  




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