- By Charles Ealy Special to the American-Statesman
Lushly filmed tales often seem to be grounded in nostalgia and sentimentality, reflecting some glorious historical time that really didn’t exist. And there’s a little bit of that in “Call Me by Your Name,” the new film from Italian director Luca Guadagnino.
But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more substantial movie that’s bursting with fruit and flowers. It’s almost as if you can smell the nectar.
In this case, the nectar accompanies the sexual awakening of a 17-year-old, Elio (Timothee Chalamet), the son of two rather impossibly sophisticated citizens of the world who spend their summers in Italy’s countryside, where the father, known only as Mr. Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), works as a Greco-Roman scholar of antiquities.
Each summer, Perlman invites a graduate student to live with his family for a few months, and in 1983, with Elio bursting with sexual curiosity, the intern turns out to be Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American who seems so casually sexy that the women of the town see him almost like one of those sculpted Roman statues that immortalize male beauty.
Elio, a budding intellectual and accomplished pianist, sees Oliver’s beauty as well. But Elio is unclear of what his response should be. Initially, there’s resentment, especially about Oliver’s tendency to hop on a bike, say “later,” and disappear for the rest of the day. Elio sees it as arrogance.
In reality, of course, Elio is responding negatively because he’s experiencing a desire that he doesn’t completely understand.
It’s important to note that Oliver isn’t clueless to what’s happening. And that gives him a potential advantage, if Oliver is the type of guy who likes power trips. But Oliver isn’t that kind of guy.
Elio tries to find an escape by sleeping with one of the young women from town. But it’s clear that his real lust is centered on Oliver — so much so that Elio has a rather notorious scene with a peach.
That might sound like a bit of silliness. But it’s a key moment in a film of awakening. Oliver intrudes on the peach scene and then threatens to eat the remains of the fruit, much to Elio’s dismay. The gentle give-and-take between the two makes up most of the rest of the movie.
“Call Me by Your Name” is being hailed as a gay love story — or derided, depending on your political and sexual sensibilities. Oddly enough, that seems like a rather awful simplification, mainly because it’s unclear how Elio will evolve sexually.
His parents are supportive of sexual exploration. And Perlman gives a wildly understanding speech to his young son about the varying experiences of love.
If you want to find fault with “Call Me by Your Name,” you might point out that the women don’t fare all that well in this story, especially the women attracted to Elio and Oliver. You might also see it as an unrealistic portrait of love flourishing, when much of the world still saw such love as an abomination back in 1983.
But it’s probably best to take the movie for what it is: a look at a young, brilliant man who’s trying to figure out his future — and his sexuality.