PLOT In the summer of 1983, a teenager in Italy and a visiting graduate student begin an illicit affair.
CAST Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg
RATED R (sexual situations and language)
PLAYING AT Manhasset Cinemas.
BOTTOM LINE A complicated movie, erotic yet never graphic, heartfelt yet highly stylized. Chalamet delivers one of the year’s best performances.
“Call Me By Your Name” is the latest project from Luca Guadagnino, a professional cinematic beguiler whose movies pulsate with issues of wealth, sex, class and culture. In “I Am Love,” he looked at the peccadilloes of wealthy Italians, and in “A Bigger Splash” he plunged into the swimming pools of rock stars and their hangers-on. In “Call Me By Your Name,” the third in his informal “trilogy of desire,” Guadagnino is back to his native Italy, this time exploring the sexual attraction between a 17-year-old boy, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), and a 24-year-old graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer).
The first thing to know is that these two are not like you and me. Elio Perlman lives in a villa in the Italian countryside with his American father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an archaeology professor, and his mother (Amira Casar, quiet but crucial). Oliver is there to study and live with the Perlmans, but the precocious Elio proves distracting. Theirs is a rarefied courtship, involving Kierkegaard, Middle Eastern etymology and a flirtatious recital of Bach — in the manner of Busoni, yet. (The screenplay is based on a novel by André Aciman.) Highbrow culture is clearly an aphrodisiac here; the movie opens with images of noble, nude Greek statues.
It can all feel a bit overdone, but Guadagnino is not (I think) poking fun or making any statements. “Call Me By Your Name” is above all a story of sexual discovery and first love (hence the movie’s melt-into-you title). It’s driven primarily by its two leads, an impressive Hammer as an experienced older man and an astoundingly good Chalamet as a teenager whose moods and emotions — from aggression to petulance — are constantly in flux. These two are nothing if not adventurous lovers: Be prepared for an eyebrow-raising use of a peach.
A note about Stuhlbarg, who as Elio’s father barely registers until near the movie’s end. In a short heart-to-heart, he delivers a lovely monologue with such purity of emotion that it’s almost breathtaking. Finally, the movie’s purpose becomes clear: It isn’t about politics, messages or even identity, it’s about two people and their feelings. For all the remarkable moments in this movie, Stuhlbarg’s may be the one you take home.