Italian director Luca Guadagnino who has quickly and deservedly achieved much acclaim and auteur status after just a few films, is releasing his latest, with much anticipation. His second feature-length narrative that put him on the map, and may be his masterpiece, was the 2009 drama of a May-December romance called “I Am Love.” It stars Tilda Swinton in a stunning performance as a once poor Russian native-turned stifled housewife of a wealthy industrial tycoon in Milan. It was meditative and intoxicating film that earned an Oscar nomination. His follow-up to that was the 2015 “Bigger Splash,” which took place in Spain. It also stars Swinton, this time as a rock star on vacation juggling a lover from her past and a current one. While this was shot just as beautifully as “I Am Love,” and its always a pleasure to watch Swinton perform, especially along side Ralphe Fiennes, it wasn’t in the same league as his debut.
For Guadagnino’s latest installment, like his breakthrough film, he weaves yet another mesmerizing and sensual tale. “Call Me By Your Name” is a languid and beautiful period piece, taking Guadagnino fans back to Italy but this time featuring two young men in love. It’s the summer of 1983 when American graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) stays with his professor and his family at their vacation home in Northern Italy. It eventually becomes a summer of love as the professor’s young son, Elio (Timothee Chalamet), becomes smitten with the older charming, attractive and seemingly womanizing, Oliver, who soon takes notice. This is unchartered territory for Elio. He is new to sex and any kind of love, let alone with a man. While he courts a local girl and experiences sex for the first time, he actually discovers love with Oliver. They cannot proclaim their attraction, so instead they sneak to one another’s room in the night, or share a cigarette and side brushes on the balcony in the wee hours of the mornings while also keeping up appearances of summer flings with young women.
In the hands of Guadagnino and his talented cinematographer, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, each scene is like a precious portrait. This is also in part due to the setting of a lusciously shabby chic stone estate in the Italian countryside. There are meals outside at long wood tables surrounded by gardens and ponds. Intellectual conversations abound with this family of academics and their equally enlightened guests. All for Oliver and Elio while sipping wine and exchanging loving glances. Every performance in this film is captivating, and the story is sweet and pure, but there is one specific scene/dialogue towards the end between Elio and his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), that alone is worth the price of admission and that should garner Stuhlbarg a Best Supporting Actor nod. The other key performances too are stellar. Armie Hammer gives a head-turning, confident portrayal as the older, brash and dashing American grad student ultimately confined to social norms of the time and unable to take his love for Elio to the next level. Equally, Chalamet gives a charmed and seamless performance as the awakened-to-love teen. He is beyond believable as an intelligent somewhat awkward young man who is trying to come to grips with feelings versus reality. In a word, he is a revelation. Does “Call Me By Your Name” achieve masterpiece status that Guadagnino’s debut film, “I am Love” did? Maybe not quite, but it sure is close.