With Call Me By Your Name, Italian director Luca Guadagnino spins a tale of first love in all of its stages. The initial sparks of attraction. The jittery excitement of making a connection. The all-consuming passion. With a script by veteran filmmaker James Ivory, as adapted from André Aciman's book of the same name, it's a picture about yearning and desire; a romance that knows the importance of every look and touch. Weaved from quiet, tender, everyday encounters that pepper every love story, it swells and surges, taking both its characters and its viewers on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Think of it as perhaps the greatest example of cinematic show and tell there is: to watch it is to experience the same heady, heated feelings as its central couple.
"Call me by your name, and I'll call you by mine," grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer) whispers to 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) in the film's most intimate moment. It's this idea — of losing yourself in someone so completely that the lines between you fade away — that provides the movie with its fluttering pulse. The two young men meet during a sweltering Italian summer in 1983, their initial awkwardness slowly blossoming into affection. Oliver's assured swagger seems as foreign to the tentative Elio as the older American's fondness for saying "later", but the teenager is soon ignoring his somewhat girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel) to spend as much time with his new companion as possible.
Beneath ravishing blue skies, soaked in streaming sunlight, the pair laze around by the pool, stroll through the orchard and cycle through their scenic surroundings. They accompany Elio's professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg, in an astonishingly sensitive and perceptive parental role) to look at archaeological finds, the real reason for Oliver's stay. During sultry nights, they party, drink and dance. It's a seemingly typical narrative, and yet the end result is anything but. Call Me By Your Name paints a detailed, nuanced portrait of Elio's sexual and emotional coming-of-age, and wholeheartedly conveys the uncertainties of a blooming gay romance played out in stolen moments. At the same time, the film speaks to anyone who has ever been overwhelmed by their feelings for someone else. It's a story that feels widely relatable while remaining deeply specific to queer relationships — drawing viewers into the intricacies of Oliver and Elio's dalliance while making everyone feel like, in some way, it's our own.
Best known for the grief-tinged I Am Love and the chaotic interpersonal escapes of A Bigger Splash, Guadagnino crafts Call Me By Your Name as if he's sharing memories rather than relaying a fictional narrative. The stunning images lensed by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Arabian Nights), with their precise, postcard-like composition and radiant warmth, seem as though they were etched into the filmmaker's mind long before the movie ever existed. The same also proves true of the moments between characters, with Guadagnino and his regular editor Walter Fasano giving every glance and spoken exchange the room to breathe and grow in a film where silence says more than even the most heartfelt of words.
Still, for all its many charms, casting might be the feature's most crucial element. Call Me By Your Name is a triumph of acting, with Chalamet and Hammer both in sensational, career-best form. Indeed, as a precocious slip of a teen who finds his life forever changed, Chalamet delivers one of the best screen performances of recent years. Meanwhile, despite his lengthier resume, Hammer has never been more charismatic or vulnerable. It's their work, as much as anything around them, that helps immerse audiences in this seductive, sensual, personal and piercing account of romance's ebbs and flows. A film as infectious and intoxicating as the well-deployed strains of the Psychedelic Furs' 'Love My Way', Call Me By Your Name is the story that stories about first love will be judged against for many years to come.