I have watched this film three times now, and it gets better at each viewing.
Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is a feast for the senses – an erotic buffet filled to the brim with symbolism, intellect and culture.
But most of all, innocence.
Call Me By Your Name is the story of 17 year-old Elio’s sudden infatuation with 24 year-old graduate student, Oliver, one of a succession of yearly summer visitors brought to the beautiful Italian villa by his father to help with paperwork and for the chosen student’s own intellectual and spiritual enrichment. It is based on the book of the same name by André Aciman, which I read before viewing the film. In this case, the movie exceeded the promise of the book – which in itself was wonderful – by immersing the viewer in the lush Italian summer that Aciman writes about and by selecting Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer as the two lead actors.
Their chemistry is palpable from the moment they first meet through the tentative attempts at flirting and seduction, through to the final moments at the train station when Oliver has to leave. Chalamet was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. Somehow, he is able to show every emotion and thought that crosses Elio’s mind as he tries to figure Oliver out and decipher his own confusing feelings of attraction.
This is one of the most mature films I’ve ever had the privilege to watch. It is a story in which sex is as natural as breathing, as wonderful a part of growing up as anything else, where nothing is shameful about embracing one’s desires and enjoying the fruit of life. The peaches that ripen in Anella’s orchard are as full of promise and as sweet as Elio. They are innocent but sensual in their own right, just like him.
As Elio and Oliver bicycle through the Italian countryside growing ever more aware of their mutual attraction, the viewer is treated to such a natural growth of love and longing that it becomes a part of the landscape.
The house in which Elio lives and where Oliver stays for the summer is a character in itself. Like Elio’s parents, the ancient villa is always welcoming, doors open wide to the sunshine, balconies overlooking vast expanses of grass and trees. But there are hidden passages and secret rooms too, where only the most loyal companions are taken. Elio’s private escape above back of the kitchen, where he brings Marzia to wile away the hours until his tryst with Oliver, is also the room where he has intimate relations with a ripe peach and later cries in Oliver’s arms over the fact that Oliver must soon leave.
This film is a celebration of summertime, first love, sexual exploration of all kinds — opposite sex, same sex, solitary sex with a peach — beauty and desire. It is also a celebration of how a parent can let their child become an adult by sitting back and letting that child explore the world on his/her own terms. By understanding that sexuality is a natural part of living and that putting barriers around who we’re allowed to fall in love with or engage with sexually is a losing game, and why would we want to play it anyway?