May contain spoilers
“Call Me By Your Name” is supposed to come to Beaumont the first week in March, just in time for the Oscars, where it is nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor for Timothée Chalomet’s performance as 17-year-old Elio.
This coming of age love story is set in early-1980s Italy, and the scenery alone is well worth the price of admission. James Ivory wrote the script and the film evokes the feel of one of the classic Merchant/Ivory films like “A Room With A View,” “Howards End” or, more fittingly, “Maurice.”
When 24-year-old American graduate student Oliver, played by Armie Hammer, arrives to spend a summer as an assistant to Perlman, a professor of ancient antiquities, Elio, Perlman’s son, is whiling away the summer, adrift in a haze of burgeoning sexuality. Both have liaisons with local girls, but it is clear from the glances and furtive looks that they are destined to find each other.
Oliver initially comes across as an obnoxious American. Hammer plays him with a brash confidence that borders on rudeness, and exhibits a sense of entitled self-confidence. His voracious appetite is hinted at by the way he eats his egg at his first breakfast. His habit of leaving with an abrupt, “Later,” becomes a joke for the family. Elio’s initial reaction is to not like Oliver especially the way the girls of the village are obviously smitten.
The action, if one can call it that, moves slowly and languidly as their friendship develops amid bicycle rides through the hazy Italian summer. Elio is precociously gifted intellectually. In one scene Oliver asks him to play a Bach piece on the piano and Elio shows off his skills by changing it each time, all the while explaining the particular composer he is referencing.
As time passes, the two find each other. Elio is the aggressor, while Oliver, as he says, is trying to be good.
Chalomet would be the youngest Best Actor winner should he walk away with the Oscar, and although it is unlikely, his performance is striking for its complexity and nuance. He also plays a key character in “Lady Bird,” and he has announced himself as a major talent.
This has been hailed as a “gay” movie, and that is certainly there, although both characters could best be described as bisexual. What the movie really gives us is a love story that transcends mere sexuality. Director Luca Guadagnino doesn’t really show the sex, choosing to pan to an open window and show an idyllic landscape. It is as though he is telling us to look beyond the physical.
That is the strength of “Call Me By Your Name.” It is a love story. A summer romance that allows Oliver and Elio to find themselves in each other — hence the title — and it is rewarding for both of them.
The highlight of the film occurs late when Elio’s father, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, talks to his son, with text lifted almost exactly from André Aciman’s novel. Stuhlbarg is this year’s Oscar standard, appearing in three of the top films, including “The Post” and “The Shape of Water.” It is in this film that he best shows his range. The speech is beautiful and incredibly moving, and should be required viewing for everyone — gay, straight or anywhere in-between.
“Call Me By Your Name” is a beautiful, thoughtful and affecting film that unfolds like the novel on which it is based.