And so, begins another year of reviewing the best picture nominees, and I love every second of it. But this one’s a little bit different. While watching these movies, I noticed a theme of unusual love. Unless the films about war, journalism or race, each film centres on love in all its strange forms. We see a hostile relationship between two difficult personalities (Phantom Thread) and an intense bond between a mother and daughter (Lady Bird). We also see the extreme lengths a mother will go for the love of her daughter (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). There’s even a romance between a woman and the Creature from the Black Lagoon (The Shape of Water). But we begin this theme with Call Me by Your Name, a somber romance about a seventeen-year-old boy and his brief relationship with a slightly older man.
To Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet, Lady Bird), the summer of 1983 is no different than any other summer. It’s just another couple of months at his family’s villa in Northern Italy, where he spends his days transcribing music, flirting with Marzia (Esther Garrel) and waiting for the summer to end. And as usual, his Roman history professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg, The Shape of Water) brings an apprentice to live with them for six weeks. This year, that apprentice is Oliver (Armie Hammer), a brash young American who puts his family under his spell. At first, Elio’s not impressed. Yet he can’t stop staring at Oliver. Soon the two form a bond as Elio longs for this new resident.
From the opening credits with John Adam’s Hallelujah Junction playing over photos of roman statues, Director Luca Guadagnino enchants the film with Italian Culture. Though the main cast is predominantly American, you feel Italian culture in every scene. You feel it in the family’s ancient villa. You feel it in the biking trails and the fields surrounding it. You even feel it in the family’s routine of eating their meals outside surrounded by their peach trees. Every scene places you under its spell with its beauty.
Just as beautiful is the relationships the character’s relationship with each other. Seeing them enjoy breakfast or reading a book together, most wish their family could be as close as Elio’s. Also adorable is Elio’s relationship with Marzia’s, recalling audience’s memories of summer flings. They work thanks to the actors’ believable chemistry. But nowhere is that chemistry stronger than with Chalamet and Hammer’s as the two leads. Hammer’s Oliver offers subtle hints through backrubs while Chalamet’s Elio tries to attract him through his knowledge of Bach and literature. But as they share in activities like biking across fields or discussing Italian history, their bond goes deeper and deeper.
It’s in this relationship that we witness a teens’ awkward journey discovering sexuality. Though he is aware of homosexuality through his parent’s friends, Elio’s seems to have always regarded himself as straight. But his attraction to Oliver throws him in a confused loop. Being a late teen, he lacks the emotional maturity to properly react to this loop. At first, he tries to resist. But as he gets closer to Oliver, he resorts to strange habits to satisfy his urges, including stuffing his head into Oliver’s bathing suit. He gets so sexually frustrated that he resorts to masturbating into a peach.
But as summer ends, life forces them to go their separate ways. And in the end, Sufjan Steven’s ode to loss “Visions of Gideon” plays over the haunting closeup of Elio sitting next to a fire, in tears over the loss of something special. This is an image that will stay with you after the credits role. In that moment, Call Me by Your Name becomes a haunting memory. You could almost feel the summer breeze and taste the peaches just from watching this film. A film that can make you feel the environment deserves the praise it gets.