Call me by your Name is a sensual tale of first love, based on the novel by André Aciman. It’s the summer of 1983 in Italy, and Elio, a precocious 17-year-old American-Italian boy, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia. Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father, an eminent professor specialising in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella, a translator, who favour him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights.
While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver, a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendour of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.
Guadagnino’s telling of the development of this romance, which changes both parties, is like the feeling of getting gently drunk. It’s smooth but a little dizzying. He fills every scene with life. Trees are heavy with fruit; people are always eating; the chirping of crickets a constant soundtrack. He thrusts life at you and wills his characters to live theirs. Long summer days drift away in a gentle routine of swimming, cycling and nothing, but each day that passes with feelings unvoiced is a day lost — they will never have it back.
The screenplay, written by James Ivory, is elegant and full of small surprises. The level of attention given to even the smallest of characters means so many of them have an impact even with minimal screen time — Elio’s brief girlfriend breaks your heart with a handful of lines. What few vocal emotional outpourings are present are earned — a paternal monologue by Stuhlbarg in the final minutes is as verbose as the film gets and, good lord, it makes it count (bring tissues). But much is conveyed in the many silences which are entrusted to an excellent cast.
Chalamet is the centre and he gives the kind of performance that immediately sends you to Google to find out where the hell this kid came from (he may be familiar from Interstellar or Homeland). All Elio’s teenage emotions are raw on Chalamet’s skin. He plays him as a person still forming, not scared by his feelings but surprised. In a film in which every performance is terrific, Chalamet makes the rest look like they’re acting. He alone would make the film worth watching, but he’s just one of countless reasons.