Call Me By Your Name *****
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamat, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
Director: Luca Guadagnino
After Moonlight’s triumph at the Oscars this year, the hope for LGBT cinema at the Academy Awards next year has been placed firmly at the feet of Call Me By Your Name, a love story between two young men by Italian director Luca Guadignino. The director, whose profile has been rising steadily in Hollywood due to his earlier collaborations with Tilda Swinton, has this time abandoned his muse for Armie Hammer, the towering pillar of a matinee hunk, whose intensely masculine presence the entire film revolves around.
Seventeen year-old Elio (Chalamat) and his parents (Stuhlbarg and Casar) spend their summers in a villa in Lombardy, northern Italy. When Oliver (Hammer) arrives, a doctoral student with an internship with Elio’s father, the two initially clash, with Elio annoyed at Oliver’s laissez-fare attitude and Oliver put off by Elio’s abrasiveness. They both embark on brief flings with local girls before they soon begin to admire each other’s intelligence, both realising they are developing feelings beyond just friendship. However, while Elio is keen to explore these feelings, Oliver is not.
There are many things separating the two; the age gap, their backgrounds, being in Italy in the 1980s. Though Elio’s parents couldn’t be more liberal, Oliver comes from more conservative stock and it soon becomes clear that his manly bravado is masking a deep vulnerability, which manifests itself in womanising and a staunch detachment from anyone he comes into contact with. As his relationship with Elio deepens, the layers begin to peel back to reveal a man who just wants to be himself and Hammer gives a brilliantly multi-faceted performance as we see Oliver ricochet between being a figure to admire, a figure to love and a figure to pity.
In I Am Love, Guadignino’s 2009 masterpiece, its central romance is built on borrowed time; an illicit affair that could only ever last a short while, played out against the sun-drenched fields of a rural Italian summer. Similarly, Oliver and Elio’s relationship has an expiration date, with the clock ticking until the day the American will have to leave. They frolick, they cavort, but Oliver can never really let go of himself, which seems a product of his nonchalant attitude at first, but could actually be attributed to something much simpler. And their summer of leisure together seems to go on and on and on. While it’s the simmering sexual tension that keeps you watching for most of the film, it’s only later that you realise this is a character piece about a man’s bluster and how his confidence does not make him strong.
Chalamat gives a sturdy performance as Elio, while Casar is grounded in her depiction of his supportive mother. But Stuhlbarg comes into his own in the final act, where he gets the most compelling scene in the whole film, showing a beautiful example of liberal parenting that makes him appear a hero of almost Atticus Finch proportions. Elsewhere, weight and gravitas settles in brief moments, meaning conveyed in lingering looks, while declarations of love do not need to be said. They beauty is in the unsaid; the long periods of silence as the willowy Elio considers the mountainous Oliver, whose 6’5 frame is as statuesque as the classical sculptures he is there to study.
Unlike most films of this type, there is no great obstacle that the couple must overcome in order for them to be together. The film is less about their overcoming the odds, but more about their self-discovery alongside each other. And though this long-summer of swimming, bicycle rides and sunbathing seems a world apart from ours, it is only through marked realism that this film so wholly succeeds. There is love, lust, anger, frustration, self-doubt, recrimination; but all is played out on the canvas of a summer where, really, not that much happens. It’s a coming-of-age drama, but really it’s more of a coming-of-wisdom piece. And though you will be rooting for the couple throughout, it is the relationship between father and son that packs the real punch. Which says a lot, that Stuhlbarg can steal this particular show!
OUT NOW IN CINEMAS.