It’s now just a few days before the Oscars® are given out, which means another highly acclaimed film finally arrives at our cinemas. Better not blink because you’ll miss it… and you don’t want to miss CALL ME BY YOUR NAME because it is as magnificent as an Italian summer sky.
Based on the 2007 award-winning novel of the same name by Egyptian-Jew André Aciman (I mention that he’s Jewish because the main characters in the story are also Jewish), CALL ME BY YOUR NAME tells the sensual, coming-of-age story set in 1983 of Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet, LADY BIRD), the 17-year-old son of a university professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg, THE SHAPE OF WATER; ARRIVAL; STEVE JOBS; TRUMBO) and a translator mother (British actress, Amira Casar), who spend their summers and holidays at her family’s villa in Lombardy, Italy. Elio is a very special young man from a very special family. Flawlessly fluent in English, French and Italian, he spends his vacation time reading, transcribing music, playing his guitar and piano (there is one wonderful scene where he plays a Bach piece in three different styles), savouring ripe, luscious peaches right from the tree, and swimming at the nearby lake with the other teenagers who live in the area, including Marzia (Esther Garrel, daughter of famous French director Philippe Garrel and younger sister of actor Louis Garrel (LE REDOUTABLE)), a French girl whose family most likely also summers there. Every summer, Elio’s father invites a doctoral student into their home for a six-week internship to help him with his research into Greco-Roman culture. This summer, the student is Oliver (Armie Hammer, THE SOCIAL NETWORK), a 24-year-old American. Oliver is everything that Elio is not. He’s tall, handsome and well-built, not unlike the erotic statues that Dr. Perlman studies; he’s confident but aloof, whereas Elio is somewhat introverted; and he’s proudly Jewish, unlike the Perlmans who are quietly Jewish. Elio finds himself sexually drawn to Oliver, and the two begin a dance of sorts as they navigate their relationship.
While many people are calling this a gay love story, I’m hesitant to refer to it as such. Yes, Elio and Oliver do end up having a sexual relationship, but for Elio it’s more of an exploration of his feelings. Even he wouldn’t say that he’s definitively gay. Right now, he’s bisexual. At the end of day though, it doesn’t really matter whether he’s gay or not. This is a love story, much like MOONLIGHT is also a love story.
There is a powerful scene towards the end of the film when the six weeks have passed and Oliver has gone home. The house has become quiet once again and Elio sits down with his father to reflect on the summer and their guest. Without revealing anything, Dr. Perlman’s words of advice to his son will melt your heart and may just make you wish you had him as your father. Aciman has apparently received plenty of mail from gay men who said that they wished their father had said those things to them when they were that age. But again, to me this is not a gay thing. It’s about a father who remembers what it’s like to be 17 and to be curious about love.
Director Luca Guadagnino takes his time with the story — it’s a good hour before Elio and Oliver get together — but that’s okay because you feel like you’re with them in Italy where the summer days are long, the air is fresh, the water is refreshingly cool, the fruit is deliciously sweet, and life is slow and peaceful. This film is not for the impatient! Fortunately, audiences are richly rewarded by the time the final credits roll. Certainly, the closing scene, which was apparently shot in one take, makes the journey worthwhile.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is one of my favourite films from the past year — certainly in the top 5 — with superb performances all around, beautiful cinematography (by Thai Sayombhu Mukdeeprom), a great story adapted by 89-year-old James Ivory (of Merchant-Ivory fame) and expert direction. Be sure to see it in a cinema because you need a big screen to soak up all the film’s atmosphere.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, March 1st at 8:30 am HK time!
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