The setting is gorgeously specific — summer, northern Italy, early 1980s — but the agony and ecstasy of young love are universal in Luca Guadagnino’s intoxicating coming-of-age drama. Seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the precocious only child of an American professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and a chic continental mother (Amira Casar), whiles away the endless afternoons as teenagers (or at least soigné European ones) do: playing Bach variations on the piano, reading battered hardbacks by the pool, loitering in the town square or cooling off in the river. So the arrival of grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer) registers as a near-seismic event. A handsome cipher with a face and body uncannily like one of the Roman statues Elio’s father rhapsodizes over in his studies, Oliver proves to be a heedless, half-absent sort of houseguest — “Later” is the signature catchphrase of his many abrupt exits. (And a series of impossibly tiny shorts, in electric shades of mango, petunia, and lime, is apparently the overriding theme of his seasonal wardrobe.) But as Elio and Oliver slowly begin to draw each other out, a tentative friendship forms, and a powerful attraction.
Call Me By Your Name, adapted by Oscar nominee James Ivory from André Aciman’s acclaimed 2007 novel, is in no rush to tell its story. The narrative casts a sort of languorous spell over its two-plus hours, capturing the unhurried sun-drunk rhythm of Elio’s days as his crush evolves from intriguing distraction to full-blown obsession. There are other contenders for his affection, and Oliver’s, too: local girls whose own sidelined desires Guadagnino captures with startling poignancy. The Italian director, best known for stylized sensory feasts like last year’s sleek, brittle A Bigger Splash, is as lavish with his visual gifts as he’s ever been. And he even finds levity in moments like an already internet-famous dance to the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” or in the sheer awkwardness of living inside a teenage body. But there’s a new kind of empathy here—one that allows the winsome Chalamet to shine and pulls surprising new depths from Hammer, an actor whose serene symmetry finally cracks open to reveal the remarkably flawed and feeling human being beneath. (Another much-talked-about moment from the movie’s festival run, a monologue by Stuhlbarg, should go down in scene-making — and screen-parenting — history; it also might earn him an Oscar.) The small miracle of the movie isn’t just that it tells a gay love story with such unreserved tenderness, but that it makes the fate of a romance not meant to last feel like much more than exquisitely framed filmmaking. It’s real life, heartbreaking and sublime. A-