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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Call Me by Your Name movie review: met a boy cute as can be…

Call Me by Your Name green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
You can feel the stillness and the heat of this sultry, sensual summer in Italy. This is a glorious romance about falling in love with life itself, and living with gusto.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

If you don’t want to run away to the Italian countryside after Call Me by Your Name, and eat fruit right off the tree, and bask in the summer sun, and fall in love, I have nothing to say to you. This is a movie about falling in love with life itself, about living with gusto and embracing all the sensuality that being alive in a human body has to offer. This is a movie about how eating delicious food and swimming on a hot day and listening to the crickets hum and touching another person and making music and dancing and reading books and feeling all the feels are essential human behaviors, and preferably more than one at the same time if at all possible. Maybe some of these things are lacking in your life, and Call Me will inspire you to find them for yourself. Maybe your life is already happily full of all these things, and Call Me will remind you of that bittersweet moment in your youth when you finally learned no one ever promised that making all of this happen would be easy. But as long as you are human, there is something here for you. Maybe we will show this movie to aliens someday as a way to illustrate what all the best stuff about being a human is.

Maybe we will show this movie to aliens someday as a way to illustrate what all the best stuff about being a human is.

You’ve probably heard that this is “the gay romance,” but that’s far too reductive and limiting a term for this glorious film. I don’t mean to diminish the fact that this is a gay romance, of which there have been far too few in the mainstream movie environment, and perhaps none this perfect. It’s glorious, too, that there’s nothing political about this story: no one is fighting for his rights as a citizen or a person; no one is agonizing over coming out or being punished for doing so; there’s no specter of AIDS hanging over anyone. And again, I don’t mean to diminish stories that are about those things, because they’re important and need to be told. But this sort of gay romance has needed to be told as well, one that’s just about attraction and desire and friendship and acceptance that isn’t merely unquestioned but almost unquestionable (you know, like the romances that straight people get to have, onscreen and in real life). There’s only one tiny hint that any of this is taking place somewhere and somewhen — conservative Catholic rural Italy in 1983 — that might have issues with the central relationship, and it’s something mentioned only in passing, and quite late in the story. That’s how it feels, after all, when you deviate from the norm: you’re just you, all the time, and how you think and feel is your normal, and then once in a while you get a reminder from the outside world that you don’t quite fit in.

If you don’t want to spend a summer sitting in Italian cafes with Armie Hammer after this movie, I don’t know you at all.

If you don’t want to spend a summer sitting in Italian cafes with Armie Hammer after this movie, I don’t know you at all.

So here is 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet: Lady Bird, Love the Coopers), summering in Crema in northern Italy with his American father (Michael Stuhlbarg: The Post, Miss Sloane), a professor of antiquities, and his Italian mother (Amira Casar), a translator. Mom inherited this magnificent rambling villa with all the balconies and the doors everywhere thrown open in the hot still air, and you will want to stay here when you visit Crema. (You can feel the stillness and the heat in cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s sultry photography, and you can practically smell the grass in the meadows.) They have servants, too, like all academics can afford; actually, perhaps this is the alternate-universe fantasy it sometimes feels like. Dad’s got an intern coming to help with his work for the summer, who breezes in as the film opens. Breezy is a good word to describe 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer: Cars 3, Free Fire). He is a force of nature, embracing everything about life in Crema and with the Perlmans: the juicy apricots from their orchard, the languid days in the sun, the casual intellectualism of this family of thinkers. The girls in the village all fall instantly in love with Oliver (and he appreciates them as well), because who could resist him? He is full of life, and Hammer is a golden god. Oliver is a young man bursting with easy confidence and with seemingly few inhibitions; Hammer is so comfortable and relaxed that he hardly seems to be performing at all.

Who could resist Oliver? He is a golden god bursting with easy confidence, and with seemingly few inhibitions.

As Elio, Chalamet has the much more difficult role, for he has to navigate a teenager’s wild mood swings and petulant self-consciousness while still keeping Elio not only sympathetic but heroically so. For Elio is meant to be all of us at that age, embodying a gawky awkwardness that we can look back on with melancholy and endearment; god, were we really ever so young and fragile?! And Chalamet pulls it off beautifully. (The actor is older than the character; he’s closer to Oliver’s age, and Hammer is 31. They’re both presumaby wiser and more self-aware than the younger men they are playing, and that shows in their work here.) Elio is intellectually sophisticated for his age, making jokes about different ways to play Bach and finding sentimental resonance in medieval poetry, but he is immature in the usual ways, too. Every emotion is extreme, every moment melodramatic: He hates the arrogant Oliver! No, he loves the beautiful Oliver! Oh, he cannot live without the amazing Oliver! And it’s all utterly charming and heartbreaking at the same time. The scene in which Elio confronts his own sexuality — not as gay or straight or any other label but simply as a person with a sexuality all his own, not a reaction to or gift for other people — is an extraordinary bit of passionate acting, shame and wonder all mixed up on Chalamet’s face.

Ah, dreamy summer of books and of Oliver, in the splendid Italian countryside...

Ah, dreamy summer of books and of Oliver, in the splendid Italian countryside…

Director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) lets everything flow with the indolence of a scorching summer; even the strong emotions coursing through the film are more smoldering than blazing. They are perfect for the moments of quiet intensity that screenwriter James Ivory (Le Divorce) mines from the novel by André Aciman, such as That One Scene for which everyone is rightly deciding that Michael Stuhlbarg is their new dad, as he passes on words of wisdom to Elio at the end of the film. It’s one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever seen onscreen, for its simplicity and its honesty and its humanity.

Maybe the most astonishing thing about Call Me by Your Name is how what seems complicated here at first — such as Elio’s mixed up emotions about everything — is really very uncomplicated. Everything is simple and natural here: Doesn’t everyone’s lazy summer involve bringing up ancient statuary from sunken ships in the lake? Who doesn’t like an extended practical joke about etymology? Isn’t everyone casually fluid sexually? (Elio has a girlfriend, Marzia [Esther Garrel], though she cannot hold a candle to Oliver in Elio’s eyes, the poor girl.) Shouldn’t every day be as full of sensuality as Elio’s summer with Oliver is?

first viewed during the 61st BFI London Film Festival

Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.

green light 5 stars

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Call Me by Your Name (2017) | directed by Luca Guadagnino
US/Can release: Nov 24 2017
UK/Ire release: Oct 27 2017

MPAA: rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong sex)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Anna

    Sounds lovely, but honestly I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable about a sexual relationship between a 17 yr old and a 24 yr old (as the character’s ages are). I honestly don’t know if I can support that being depicted as a beautiful love story. Also, it is kind of unfortunate to have the characters in the same-sex love story played by straight actors.

  • 17 can be a tricky age. Legally, it’s well above the age of consent in Italy, which is 14, though of course legality and morality are not always the same thing, and arguably that age should be higher. And if Elio were 14 and Oliver still 24, that would very likely not work to create a beautiful love story. But for many people at 17, attractions to and relationships with slightly older people are normal, healthy, and not at all inappropriate. (If Oliver were, say, 35, it would feel icky.) There’s certainly nothing coercive in what we see here, and nothing that feels like Elio is doing anything that he is not fully aware of what he’s getting into. There’s some very important stuff here about making sure that the person you’re attracted to reciprocates the feeling, and not acting on it if not.

    17 and 24 could be a gray area. But in the specifics of this story, it isn’t.

  • I had the same reservations about Elio being 17. On the other hand, when I was 18, my first boyfriend was 24. I’m not sure the one year makes that much of a difference, and Elio is fairly mature for his age.

    As for the actors’ orientation, gay women and men act in hetero romances all the time. Asking straight actors to make this stretch only seems fair. And you have to give them credit—boy did they ever sell the attraction.

  • I finally got to see this yesterday and … wow. I can’t remember the last time I saw sex scenes that were so erotic or realistic. Whew. Yeah. Is it hot in here or is it just me …?

  • meeb1

    BTW, did you know that Timothée Chalamet is Jewish? His mother, who is American, is Jewish.

    I mention it because the mainstream media is pathologically obsessed with exactly only one half of his background, French, and categorically refuses to mention his other half, Jewish. Even though his character in this movie isn’t French – he’s Jewish, and spends half the movie wearing a Star of David.

    So if not now, when? In fact, Call Me By Your Name is the rare major film where three actors of Jewish heritage (Chalamet, Hammer, Stuhlbarg), play Jewish characters in the leads.

  • What a beautiful film. We all knew where this was going, but it went there with such ease and beauty.

  • I’m not sure why you’ve posted this comment here. It is not a response to anything I said in my review.

    You know that there are French Jews, right? You know that “Jewish” is not an ethnicity or nationality, right? You know that the actor’s mother is Jewish AND (since she’s American) most likely has some mix of ethnic backgrounds? Apparently her ancestry is Russian and Austrian. So the actor’s “other half” is Russian/Austrian. Or, his “other half” is American.

    You know, don’t you, that Jews would not consider Chalamet “half Jewish,” right? If his mom is Jewish, he’s all Jewish, as far as Jewish people would be concerned, right? (Whether Chalamet is observant and considers himself Jewish is another question entirely.)

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Lets imagine the 17 year old boy as a girl instead. All the feminists in the world would be up in arms about this movie. Saying it is the worst thing ever citing laws about statutory rape. The laws are quite clear, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statutory_rape

    But since it is gay sex then it is OK right? And what better place for gay sex than in Italy. Home of the ancient Roman empire. What is it about our ancient past that made almost everybody gay in Rome and Greek empires? Is it something we evolve into?

    Anyways this movie is soft porn for gays. Every gay person wants to think he’s in perfect shape, intelligent, etc., and wants to mate with every young guy who isn’t worldly enough to be anything but star struck with the older guy. Oh well. If that’s your thing then this movie is for you. I just can’t help thinking of the kid as a girl and the uproar this movie would have caused. Actually I’d like somebody to do a parody of this movie using a girl instead. That would be so much more fun to watch. But then I’d be arrested for having watched it.

  • Lets imagine the 17 year old boy as a girl instead. All the feminists in the world would be up in arms about this movie.


    Saying it is the worst thing ever citing laws about statutory rape.

    The age of consent in Italy was and is 14. If you want to get legalistic about it the relationship depicted in this film is not illegal and is not statutory rape.

    You might want to look into your issues.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Oh but you are overlooking a major point. If you are here in America you must live with the American laws. Those laws state that watching a 14 year old have sex is a punishable offense. Or even a 17 year old. Something about it being child porn. So this movie, if it weren’t for the gay twist, could put you in prison. Not that I am advocating that. Just saying put a 14 year old girl getting banged by a 24 year old man and you are looking at prison time just for having the movie on your hard disk. (Yes, I know it was a 17 year old, but 14 makes the point much clearer.)

  • Bluejay

    For fuck’s sake. These are OLDER actors in a FICTIONAL story, PRETENDING to be younger characters and PRETENDING to have sex, and none of them are ACTUAL minors being made to have REAL sex. Cut the crap.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    So romanticizing about it is OK as long as the actors involved were not underage. Got it.

  • Bluejay

    You can argue about whether it’s OK, but it is objectively not child porn, and watching it will not put you in jail. Which you claimed. Which is bullshit, and you know it. Are you done being an asshole yet?

  • bronxbee

    have you been rejected by a worldly, older, good looking, in great shape guy? because that’s how you sound.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    So I’m being an asshole. You can’t see that this movie is all about romanticizing sex with minors. Could it be that I have touched on a personal theme and you don’t want to address it? I understand. You don’t have to say anything more…

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Nope, can’t say that I have. I’m about as straight as they come. Though I don’t really like the opposite sex much either. I always wonder about the insanity of things like marriage. It is so wrong in every way but society seems to think it is right. *rolls eyes*. Instead I think everybody should figure out how to be happy in their own skins instead of seeking it elsewhere.

    But lets turn this around. Have you been rejected by a worldly, older, good looking, in great shape guy? Is that something you are seeking? If so I would strongly suggest you become self-sufficient. People are complex and if you are anybody worth note you are hopefully growing and changing. Growing and changing is painful because 99% or more of the human race can’t keep up. They are like dogs that can’t learn new tricks. Hopefully you’ll learn that and quit seeking that worldly, older, good looking, in great shape guy…

  • I’m overlooking nothing. You are being a troll. And you are gone.

  • We don’t even see anyone having sex. It all happens offscreen.

  • Ivor has been banned. Please do not respond to his comment.

  • Marcella Shipley

    Disagree with what he says, ban him? I love the new liberal open-mindedness. I find the absolute craze for this film ironic in the era of #metoo. Feel free to ban me, too.

  • Bluejay

    If liberals love this film, and you have a problem with it, consider that maybe YOU’RE the one who isn’t open-minded.

    Also, take a look at this article. If you have no problem with the age differences in these movies, you shouldn’t have a problem with the age difference in this one.


  • bronxbee

    it’s not what he said, it’s how he said it.. he’s rude and insulting and misogynistic… this is a private site, not a corporate or government site…. the owner of the site can ban whomever she likes (or dislikes, as the case may be).

  • Wow, you caught me! I simply ban everyone here who disagrees with me. Just try to find a single comment at this site written by someone who disagrees with me. You can’t!

  • Db

    This is the only time Maryann and I have agreed on a film. I wholeheartedly admit that I love cheap, sleazy horror films and I know Maryann does not. But right now that doesn’t matter. If we both can agree that this film is simply a beautiful, loving movie then all is just right in the world. I adore this film on every level.

  • Db

    My only issue with your review Maryann is very much a nitpick. The father was a truly amazing character and I think he should be called out. He gave one of the best “pro gay speeches” at the end of the movie which left me in tears. Aside from that I agree with every single world you’ve written here.

  • Your comments contradict each other.

  • Db

    Because I initially missed the section you wrote and went back and realized I was wrong. Forgot to delete my initial comment.

    Your review was perfect.

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