On average, I can only tolerate about one love story a year. In 2016, I accepted the romance in the stark sci-fi picture Arrival, probably because it doesn’t occupy much screen time and it ends in realistic calamity. It’s not that I dislike romance or don’t believe in love; it’s just that most of the time, I find the delivery a little far-fetched.
Alas, I’ve made room in my heart once again, for director Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, which treats romantic love as the rare, precious and ultimately fleeting thing that I’ve come to believe it to be. James Ivory adapts the screenplay, based on a novel by André Aciman. The movie has been nominated for four Academy Awards, which include Best Picture, a Best Original Song nod for Sufjan Stevens’ “The Mystery of Love,” Best Performance from its young male lead, Timothée Chalamet, and a Best Adapted Screenplay nod for Ivory. Of these, I suspect it has a shot at Best Screenplay and nothing else, but who gives a hoot about all that. That Montana audiences finally, finally get to see this picture surrounded by loved ones and mountains at the Roxy Theater is its own reward.
We begin in the summer of 1983, somewhere in northern Italy, where Elio (Chalamet) and his parents live perhaps the most enviable existence imaginable. They eat breakfast outside, surrounded by apricot and peach trees. Elio spends his days swimming in watering holes, reading books and playing music. He’s a gifted, multi-lingual 17-year-old with kind, gentle parents, surrounded by beautiful girls, and again, all this succulent fruit hanging patiently in every direction. Elio’s on-screen life serves as a nice reminder that not every moment is made of tangled wires and car payments — some things are just nice.
Michael Stuhlbarg plays Elio’s father (gracefully and wonderfully), a Jewish American professor named Mr. Perlman who is married to his Italian wife, Annella (Amira Casar). Each summer, the family hosts a student in their home, hence the arrival of the impossibly hunky Oliver (Armie Hammer), come to send everyone into a tizzy. I was struck by how large and imposing Hammer looks on screen, how silly his sneakers and shorts combination hit the otherwise idyllic Italian countryside. It’s as if Team America has arrived with all its brash and pomp, but it’s fine. He just takes some getting used to.
Always it is this way with Guadagnino’s films, as in 2015’s A Bigger Splash, where Americans get into all sorts of sexy trouble in Italy. It’s as if Guadagnino needs to take us gently by the hand and fly us all the way across the ocean, away from our puritan roots, before we can loosen up and experience any kind of real sensuality.
When I first saw this movie at Sundance way the heck back in January of 2017, I didn’t know that I was watching a coming-of-age, same sex romance. But movies are magic, are they not? Even with the worst films, I’m always struck by how the slightest glances, the way the camera lingers between two people, make it quickly obvious which characters are meant to hook up later on. Gay romances are the best, because we see the hints and still we doubt ourselves. It’s just our imagination, they couldn’t possibly, etc. If it’s that way for us watching, imagine how it would be to live in that skin. The romance in Call Me by Your Name takes its sweet time to unfurl. Every moment is delicious, and I believe in it precisely because the aftermath hurts so good.
Call Me By Your Name opens at the Roxy Fri., Feb. 9.