The pleasures of art, music, food, natural beauty and sexual awakening are evoked and celebrated in “Call Me by Your Name,” an almost sinfully enjoyable movie that both observes and obeys the languid rhythms of a torrid Italian summer.
Luca Guadanigno’s movie barely counts as a period piece, although the short shorts and tube socks Armie Hammer wears to play his smart-jock protagonist put the story squarely in the 1980s. Still, the themes of longing, desire and self-definition are nothing if not timeless. Here, a man’s coming-of-age is given such tactile, emotionally resonant immediacy that it would be recognizable in any country, of any era.
Timothée Chalamet plays Elio, the 17-year-old son of an archaeology professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) who has hired an American student named Oliver (Hammer) to be his assistant for the summer. Elio at first seems barely aware of Oliver’s presence, being far more interested in his on-and-off girlfriend, reading and pursuing compositional musings on the guitar and piano.
For his part, Oliver’s unbridled appetite and unselfconscious confidence strike an immediate awkward note within Elio’s casually cosmopolitan family. Soon, though, the household reaches its own pleasant rhythm, with the two men — about seven years apart in age — gravitating toward one another as friends and, eventually, more.
Balancing the objectification of its leading men with discretion and delicacy, this is a film that acknowledges the purity and sculptural beauty of youth — Greek aesthetics, philosophy and ideals of male friendship are invoked early and often — but never at the expense of a character who, on the cusp of manhood, possesses his own agency and desires.
The plot isn’t particularly novel. What sets this movie apart are the flavors, feelings and fleeting glimpses of attraction that find as much erotic tension in a volleyball game or alfresco lunch as in sparring over a Bach cantata.
“Call Me By Your Name” finds the director marshaling his gift for creating sensuous environments in service to a spellbinding, almost ecstatically beautiful movie that gains even more heft and meaning in its final transcendent moments. What had been a two-hander featuring sensitive, flawlessly judged performances by Chalamet and Hammer expands into something more, and the audience realizes that the entire film could be interpreted as an elegant exercise in misdirection.
‘Call Me By Your Name’
Rated R for sexuality, nudity and some coarse language. 2:12. Hamburg, Kentucky.