From Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name is a Gloriously moving and sensual romantic drama that sparks in the Italian sunshine

Franz Liszt, whose music is often heard and referred to in Luca Guadagnino’s wonderful film, once said “Beware of missing chances; otherwise it may be altogether too late some day.” It provides a sense of serendipity, as the statement could not be more apt for the adaptation of André Aciman’s 2007 novel, Call Me By Your Name. Liszt’s words are relevant because the burgeoning bond between American university student Oliver (Armie Hammer) and 17-year-old Italian-American intellectual and musical prodigy Elio (Timothée Chalamet) simmers and yo-yo’s for the early part of the film, with neither willing to step out of turn. Yet when they do, it provides the launch pad for an on screen relationship that is simultaneously flawed yet tender, but filled with love and passion nonetheless.

The fact that this is a gay relationship should not be a unique selling point or a novelty for audiences. It is simply a case of two people falling in love in a difficult situation. Elio is a shy intellectual on the cusp of manhood with Oliver the very antithesis of him, being brash, impulsive and confident. Oliver arrives as a pupil of Elio’s Professor of Ancient History father (Michael Stuhlbarg) in order to assist him with his latest book; with Elio initially reluctant to engage him in conversation and possibly feeling threatened with the encroachment into his world. Over the course of the run time of the picture, we see a lifetimes worth of different relationship dynamics. From the early flirting and playful joviality between the two, to the intense yearning and passion shown as they gradually succumb to their desire for one another. Their connection fluctuates between hot and cold at times, each entirely aware of the fact that the undergraduate is on a short visit and works closely with Elio’s father, making the drama all the more absorbing.

Director Luca Guadagnino shows Italy at its most dazzling best. Shot in the stunning medieval northern towns of Crema and Bergamo, at times it feels as if we are witnessing a period drama well before its 1980’s setting. He is able to build sexual tension to the point where is cannot only be cut with a knife, but can be dished up and served for dinner. Elio and Oliver reside in adjoining bedrooms separated only by a bathroom, a plot device so simple yet maddening. It adds an almost claustrophobic sense of temptation as they sneak around each other’s rooms, leaving notes or examining possessions as doors open and close in quick succession. Imagine a Scooby Doo chase sequence done in the amorous style of the Bronte sisters. The use of exotic fruits, in a particular sequence with a peach, and Ancient Greek sculpture could perhaps be seen as an obvious allegory to the homosexual relationship between the two, but it feels more fitting rather than contrived. Almost as if everything around the two central characters is pushing them closer to one another.

To suggest that the two male leads could be up for Oscar nods is completely understandable. Ever-reliable Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar as the young protagonists tolerant and compassionate parents provide able support, with a highlight scene being an extremely moving sequence shared by Stuhlbarg and Chalamet in which they discuss his sons sexuality, in which his father poignantly remarks “Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot.” Kudos also to Esther Garrel as the sweet and naïve Marzia, a love interest of Elio’s who is almost used as an experiment to test his evident bisexuality. But it is Hammer and Chalamet who are utterly enchanting and that provides the very soul of the film. With genuine chemistry and ever changing temperaments, it is a joy to simply sit back and watch two actors who are so talented and are completely at ease with James Ivory’s superb screenplay. It is film making of the highest quality all round. Chalamet has catapulted himself into centre stage as a talent to watch. Usually measured and thoughtful, his character is drawn out of his shell by Hammer’s Oliver as they bring out the best, and possibly the worst, in one another.

Music is a key theme of the film and Sufjan Stevens provides some excellent original songs, but it is the use of The Psychedelic Furs “Love My Way” and, quite contrastingly, more classical pieces that frames some key scenes. A stand out is one early on as Elio teases his amore with various renditions of a song Oliver demands to hear played back again; only to showcase his gift by performing the same song as if Liszt would and then Bach. The movie comes full circle by its conclusion but in a way that all of us can relate to on some level. Guadagnino has already discussed making a sequel revisiting Oliver and Elio 15 years on, which would be a welcome move, not too dissimilar to Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. If music is the food of love then play on.

Call me by your name is out in cinemas now. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ★