How fitting that this gorgeous, sensual and perceptive film, in which a young man and a somewhat older young man share a summer of discovery and love, is a collaboration of two auteurs — neither exactly young, but one somewhat older. If you ever wondered how a movie would look and sound as directed by Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) and scripted by James Ivory (A Room With a View), the answer is this: precisely like nothing else.
Based on André Aciman's 2007 novel, Call Me by Your Name portrays a season in the life of perhaps the most perfect movie family ever. Michael Stuhlbarg plays Professor Perlman, an authority on classical archaeology. Or Greco-Roman culture. Philology, maybe. The character, modeled on the author's father, exhibits expertise in all these fields and more.
All I know for sure is that people don't watch TV a whole lot or make small talk ever in the Perlman home. Which reminds me, I should probably say something about the home itself, a 17th-century villa in northern Italy. It is perhaps — you guessed it — the most perfect movie villa ever. Fruit orchards, gardens, every room with a view you wouldn't believe.
The sprawling yet somehow cozy château was inherited, we learn, not long before the start of the story by Annella Perlman (Amira Casar), the scholar's cultured, stunning Italian wife. Along with their 17-year-old son, Elio, the couple spends summers catching Riviera rays, working (she's a translator), playing music, reading and generally getting even smarter. The family also hosts a special guest for six weeks, a lucky doctoral candidate who's earned the chance to intern with the professor.
Elio is played by Timothée Chalamet, one of 2017's ubiquitous breakouts. Like Stuhlbarg, he can also be seen in a rival Oscar front-runner (Chalamet in Lady Bird, Stuhlbarg in The Shape of Water). Armie Hammer gives a beautifully calibrated performance as the visitor, 24-year-old Oliver.
Hammer will always be the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network to me, but I forgot all about them as he acclimated to this garden of earthly and cerebral delights. He wastes precious time, we see in retrospect, as he dazzles the village's young ladies, plays volleyball and bicycles into town with his new friend, keeping his distance, even though he and the increasingly flirtatious Elio occupy adjoining bedrooms.
Did I mention Oliver's dancing? A whole internet thing has been spawned by a scene in which he loses himself grooving to the Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way." (Did I mention the movie is set in 1983?) Apparently you can substitute almost any other pop song, and Oliver grooves exactly as rapturously.
It's hardly a spoiler to report that the two eventually yield to their yearning. So exquisitely refined are their performances that Chalamet and Hammer actually look and sound like new men the next morning — which doesn't go unnoticed, in a villa filled with super-perceptive brainiacs. We all know what normally happens in stories like this. But it doesn't. The Perlmans, remember, are the most perfect movie family ever.
Were the gods to author a parenting guide, I doubt the chapter on helping a child come to terms with human sexuality could add much to what Elio's father tells him in a lovely late scene. The film's last-minute twist is strictly spoiler territory, so all I'll say is that Call Me by Your Name is that rare achievement: a great film that only gets greater as it unfolds. Run, don't walk. It's a peach.