Opening with lush colors at a beautiful North Italian villa, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name (CMBYN) sets the tone for what happens to be one of the most erotic yet demure stories of longing and desire ever made.
We are transported into the 1980s as we follow the sumptuous coming of age love story between 17-year-old Elio (played by the incredibly talented Timothée Chalamet) and the American academic (Armie Hammer in the shortest shorts possible) who works for his father over the course of the summer. Based on the 2007 novel by André Acimam, CMBYN draws you into this story about genuine attraction and want that doesn’t seem rushed or manipulated.
2017 saw Moonlight – another beautiful story about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality and what it means at different pivotal stages of his life – pick up the Best Picture statuette at the Academy Awards. Following the blueprint set by its predecessor, CMBYN shows its lead characters as more than just two men falling in love, but depicts the story as a journey into the connection and bond shared by two human beings. One of the major hindrances to accepting people based on their gender, sexuality or color has always been in the lack of understanding that they are, after all, just human.
Intense eroticism is balanced with concepts such as uncertainty, naïveté and vulnerability, these are things common to first loves and James Ivory’s seductive script show that Elio and Oliver’s experience is no different from what you and I experienced with our first, regardless of sexual orientation. The sex scenes and every touch or glimpse of yearning are shot with such grace and beauty reiterating the fact that they’re not set to advance a plotline but rather a temerarious triumph at telling a slow-burning love story.
The performance of each actor bites at you with every nuanced movement or restrained look of knowing and passion. Timothée Chalamet who is the real breakout star of 2017, sells a believable performance as the self-assured yet deeply unaware Elio. In a scene where he goes “You have no idea how little I know about the things that matter” after being complimented about his vast knowledge, you get to see a real teenager who, though uncertain about his feelings, isn’t terrified or ashamed but open to exploring each emotion. Armie Hammer pulls his weight here too, shifting the narrative of the “Hollywood Pretty Boy” studios have been trying and failing to bank off (Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E) to a real self-aware performer who takes on Oliver with confidence and a sense of fragility. The supporting cast, especially Michael Stuhlberg who gives one of the most beautiful monologues ever written, shine in each scene and role.
We live in a time and a continent where, instead of seeing beauty in individuality and acceptance in the face of the unknown, we are quick to cast the biblical first stone. Films like this go a long way to create a tectonic shift and steer the conversation in a direction that love is love and when everything is stripped away we are all just humans yearning for the same connection as the next man or woman on the street.