The exquisite Call Me by Your Name was originally supposed to be directed by James Ivory, the gay American filmmaker who adapted the script from André Aciman’s novel and who also spent decades as a partner (professionally and personally) to Ismail Merchant. Fortunately, the Italian-set story caught the attention of Luca Guadagnino, the more dynamic and innovative gay director whose previous two films, I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, were unabashedly hetero. Their film comes to Tarrant County this week, and like last year’s landmark of gay cinema Moonlight, this is both a superb mood piece and something more.
The film takes place in 1983, when Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is a trilingual 17-year-old with interests in literature and music spending the summer with his Franco-American parents at their sumptuous second home in northern Italy. The love of his life arrives in the person of Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American graduate student who has come to assist Elio’s archeologist dad (the ubiquitous Michael Stuhlbarg) with his work on Roman art. Though Elio spends much of his time chasing after the hot French girl who lives down the road (Esther Garrel), he can’t ignore his attraction to the handsome and somewhat older man who’s sleeping in his bedroom while Elio is relegated to the guest room next door.
This film is a showcase for Guadagnino’s ability to bring out the tactile poetry in surfaces. A Sicilian, he nevertheless finds great visual splendor in the opposite end of his country, including a breathtaking interlude at the Cascate del Serio outside Bergamo. The greenery of that scene contrasts with the cobblestone-paved village of Crema, where much of the film takes place. The director and his Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom create sunlight-kissed urban landscapes that are so inviting that you want to walk into the frame and sit down at a table in the piazza with a limoncello and today’s copy of Corriere della Sera. Another surface that the filmmakers dwell on lovingly is Hammer’s body, which so fascinates Elio. The actor wears quite flattering short shorts for most of the film and makes a compelling object of erotic desire.