Starring Timothée Chalamet. In English, French, and Italian, with English subtitles. Rated 14A
Timothée Chalamet is having quite a year at the movies. The Manhattan-born Franco-American, who turns 22 this month, broke through as the sullen rocker in Lady Bird. Now he’s in virtually every scene of Call Me by Your Name, a breathlessly told tale of adolescent awakening set in rural Italy.
The dark-eyed youngster plays Elio Perlman, a 17-year-old music prodigy spending the summer of 1983 with his French mother (Amira Casar, who’s actually from England) and American father (Michael Stuhlbarg) at their seasonal villa in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. Dad is a professor of antiquities, and this year’s academic assistant is a grad student who’s pretty much a golden statue of Adonis himself.
Tall, flaxen-haired, 24-year-old Oliver (The Social Network’s Armie Hammer, who looks older) arrives like a summer storm, shaking up the natives and the Perlman household. Especially Elio, who, from his initial responses, seems not to have particularly noticed other guys in that way. The lad has a sort-of girlfriend (Esther Garrel, daughter of French director Philippe Garrel) visiting from Paris, but his interest wanes as he gets caught up in the whirlwind comings and goings of Oliver—who really doesn’t get a lot of work done that swoonworthy summer.
Screenwriter James Ivory, now almost 90, tackled more subdued versions of these themes, often in sun-dappled period Italy, during his fabled partnership with the late Ismail Merchant (in Maurice and Room With a View, for example). He adapted Egyptian American André Aciman’s 2007 novel, imposing an elegant structure on the tale. But the polyglot drama is dominated by director Luca Guadagnino, himself of both Italian and Ethiopian extraction. As in his previous efforts, I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, actors of decidedly different backgrounds and styles are subordinated to Guadagnino’s lyrical excesses, which can alternate wildly between the poetically incisive and the indulgently preposterous.
By the end of this 132-minute journey, I had grown somewhat weary of the tug of war between the two leads, despite disarming efforts from Hammer and Chalamet. And, more crucially, had started to wonder if the specifics—their Jewishness, intellectual pursuits, and location in place and time—were truly that central to the story. The movie is very beautiful, no doubt, but it quietly bullies you into believing in its grandiosity.