“Somewhere in Italy”; exactly where is not important to the beauty of this small town but nowhere near small-minded romance. The perfect rural seclusion allows for unbreakable bonds of friendship and, indeed, sensual love to grow. Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), the son of an esteemed academic, and Oliver (Armie Hammer), appointed by Elio’s father to assist him in his research, navigate the wild and winding roads of temptation, desire and secrecy, all whilst basking in the warm light of the 1983 sun.
It would be to its discredit to refer to Call Me By Your Name as a ‘coming-of-age’ film, as its complex and yet entirely simplistic romance goes beyond anything produced in the last twenty years, bar perhaps Moonlight. Though one can’t help but feel a certain solidarity with Elio in his experiences, his both introverted and extroverted nature as a precocious teenager feels all too familiar to watch. Elio transcribes piano music, lying on the lap of his mother as she reads (translated from German no less) stories of forlorn knights, pondering the philosophies of love. His life is full of decadence and a rich education of the finest literature and art; one can only imagine how this influence allows him to interpret the overwhelming pull he feels towards Oliver. The bittersweet nature of the film is only amplified by director Luca Guadagnino’s nostalgic eye for his native land, captured in vibrant 35mm.
There is a pocket of true, unadulterated beauty in this film that lies in the hands of Mr Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg). He reminds his son Elio that “nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spots”, whilst, in turn, assuring him of his complete acceptance and unconditional love for him. Stuhlbarg’s words are guaranteed to live on in the mind of many a viewer, especially those who perhaps desperately needed a role model like Mr Perlman in their formative years.
A final encounter between Elio and his old friend Marzia (Esther Garrel) reflects the importance of acceptance and loving oneself no matter what. The certainty in his relationship with Marzia is something you can imagine he craved in his relationship with Oliver; Marzia is Elio’s ally. As one watches the credits roll atop of Chalamét wistfully staring into a fireplace, it is clear Call Me By Your Name is just, purely, a love story. Though it portrays a queer relationship, that harsh sting of a first lost love is relatable for anyone, and makes this film all the more remarkable.
Image: BFI London Film Festival