tue 21/11/2017

Call Me By Your Name review - a star is born in a heartbreaking gay romance | reviews, news & interviews

Call Me By Your Name review - a star is born in a heartbreaking gay romance

Call Me By Your Name review - a star is born in a heartbreaking gay romance

Timothée Chalamet is an emotional knockout in a story both sensual and sad

'If you only knew how little I know about the things that matter': Timothée Chalamet in 'Call Me By Your Name'

It's not every day that an actor breaks your heart playing a character who surrenders his. But that's among the numerous achievements of Timothée Chalamet's knockout performance in Call Me By Your NamePlaying a culturally savvy and articulate 17-year-old American who comes of age sexually in sun-dappled northern Italy in 1983, Chalamet's work is a thing of wonder. As is the film, by turns ravishing and wrenching. 

The director, Luca Guadagnino, has explored the labyrinthine byways of desire before in the likes of I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, but never with anything like the nuance and delicacy applied to this adaptation of André Aciman's 2007 novel of the same name. It seems entirely apt, somehow, that the screenplay should be the handiwork of James Ivory, who is now 89. The terrain finds various echoes in Merchant-Ivory's celebrated Maurice (1987), another tale of slow-aborning same-sex relations    except that Call Me By Your Name is friskier and more playful and, where it counts, far more wounding, too.

It takes some while, to be sure, before the sulky, musically precocious Elio (Chalamet) finds a way of acting on his burgeoning feeling for Oliver (Armie Hammer, pictured below with Chalamet), the graduate student who has been brought to Italy to help Elio's academic father (the extraordinary Michael Stuhlbarg, pictured further down) with the intricacies of Greco-Roman sculpture and statuary, Praxiteles in particular.Call Me By Your NameIt's not lost on anyone in the host family that the visiting Oliver represents a walking piece of statuary in himself ("You're bigger than your picture" is the casually voiced observation when he arrives). But Elio initially can't figure out what to make of the polite if somewhat remote Oliver, whose default word of choice is the diffident-seeming "later". "Six long weeks,"  remarks Elio's mum (Amira Casar) dreamily of the leisure time that lies ahead, during which the two men in her quasi-charge will find their lives changed for keeps. 

Their rapport progresses across various bike rides, swims, and trips to local dances, and a girlfriend or two enters the frame only to be (poignantly) sidelined as Elio and Oliver move towards each other, the odd caress of a foot leading to what must be one of the sexiest first kisses of any orientation to appear on screen in many a year. "If you only knew how little I know about the things that matter," the Bach-playing Elio remarks with a mixture of coyness and directness that lingers in the air. "I want to be good" is Oliver's eventual rejoinder. The two are destined, it would seem, by the similarly liquid nature of their names: Elio and Oliver sound like ingredients for the dressing one might find on an insalata mista.Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your NameThroughout it all, Hammer and Chalamet spark off each other with a spontaneity and ease that suggest a sense of life caught on the lam: if Guadagnino ever wants to turn his attentions towards The Seagull, his Trigorin and Konstantin are right here. The Italian landscape, while certainly lovely, is never allowed to overwhelm the propulsive narrative with the sort of glossy pictorials that can be the downfall of such fare. Instead, you clock the silent ticking of time and the toll its onward march will soon take once Oliver realises he must respond to the demands of his life elsewhere.

What's left is for Elio to try to make sense of a devastating seismic shift within himself that Chalamet calibrates with almost preternatural skill; his ironic utterance of the words "for life" brings a gate crashing down on what Elio won't have with Oliver. The film cannily grants the most knowing and gorgeous of summary remarks to Stuhlbarg, who is given an 11th-hour monologue so startling in its humanity that you want to applaud. Whether a paternal benediction is what Elio can or wants to hear, Call Me By Your Name is right to speak it. Philosophically as well as visually, this movie is a beaut.

Elio and Oliver sound like ingredients for the dressing one might find on an insalata mista

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters