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“Call Me by Your Name” is a love supreme

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar and Esther Garrel. Available for rent or purchase on multiple streaming sites. 132 minutes. 14A

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 4)

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

“Call Me by Your Name,” Luca Gaudagnino’s sensuous coming-of-age story, is one of the year’s most romantic movies, and also one of the best.

Based on André Aciman’s bestselling novel, scripted for the screen by James Ivory, and starring Timothée Chalamet in his breakout role, it’s about a shy 17-year-old youth finding himself in the erotic company of a 24-year-old man who thinks he knows all about life.

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer play the two lovers, Elio and Oliver. They meet in the summer of 1983 in the gorgeous Northern Italy vacation villa of Elio’s parents: Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his Italian wife, Annella (Amira Casar). Groves of fruit trees surround the majestic mansion, which also boasts a swimming pool made of stone.

The professor is an American expert in ancient Greek and Roman statues, some pulled from local waters. They’re so explicitly sculpted, he marvels that it’s “as if they’re daring you to desire them.”

Or perhaps they’re aroused by the heat of their surroundings, in this sylvan region where the sun shines so brightly, it appears to have bleached all the blue out of the sky.

Elio resents having to vacate his room for six weeks each summer, as his parents generously open their home to a chosen grad student who will assist the professor with his statuary reclamation and documentation work.

This year’s conscript is Oliver, a self-assured long drink of water whom Elio initially calls “the interloper.” He also describes Oliver as arrogant for his American habit of saying “later” when he takes his leave at meals and other gatherings. Who does this guy think he is?

Oliver is bemused by Elio, but chides him for meddling in his affairs and for being a know-it-all: “Is there anything you don’t know?” he asks, with notes of both admiration and exasperation.

This is a truly a brainy gathering. Elio and his parents fluidly converse in English, Italian and French, and Annella can quickly translate the German text of a story about a taciturn knight, as she demonstrates.

Elio is also a musical prodigy, slipping between guitar and piano as fancy strikes, but fortunately never clashing with the sumptuous soundtrack, which includes the evocative Sufjan Stevens tunes “Visions of Gideon” and “Futile Devices.”

A local girl named Marzia (Esther Garrel) aches for Elio’s love. He is flattered by her attention, and his hormones rage so fiercely they haven’t quite decided which gender they’re most interested in, and maybe never will.

But Elio’s mind is transfixed on Oliver, who is comfortable with his body in ways that Elio fears he’ll never be, even though both of them frequently strut about bare-chested and in bathing trunks.

Oliver could have been a model for one of those Greco-Roman statues he and the professor are studying. Radiating self-assurance, he dances like nobody’s watching (see him revive the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way”), greets strangers like long-lost friends and consumes fruit — including a peach that will soon become notorious — like a foraging woodlands bear.

Yet Oliver finds himself as drawn to Elio as the younger man is to him, even though he initially resists the attraction. He’s likely worried about the age difference (Hammer looks more like 31, his real age), but he’s also aware that love isn’t the bottomless well it appears to be at first arousal. A hard floor often awaits those who topple into it.

Italian director Gaudagnino has proven himself to be a skilled observer of human desire and relations, in such previous triumphs as I Am Love and A Bigger Splash. He’s created his masterpiece with “Call Me by Your Name,” a love supreme which saves its most powerful moments for the final ones.

First we see Stuhlbarg’s Professor Perlman, the proverbial still water running deep, delivering a father-son talk for the ages. (Dads, let those tears flow.)

This is followed by an intense close-up by lensman Sayombhu Mukdeeprom of the face of the amazing Chalamet. Upon it cross all the emotions Elio has felt over six unforgettable weeks, and perhaps for a lifetime to come. 🌓

(Originally published in the Toronto Star.)


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