More than anything else, Luca Guadignino's film adaptation of Andre Aciman's novel is a sensual, sensory pleasure. There is nothing in this movie that doesn't beg to be touched. When Oliver first comes to the Italian Villa, he walks upstairs, taking the time to run his fingers on a hanging tapestry. Yolks gush out of crackled eggs, apricots are plucked directly from the tree, almost burdened with their ripeness. It's a burning Italian summer, and you can see it in the perspiration and the sweat spots on everyone's shirts, but Guadignino has somehow combined sound and sight to make you taste and touch it too. You can feel the blades of grass beneath the characters' feet, the beat of a fierce sun, the momentary coolness of stone beneath your feet in the shadow. Elio tosses in his bed, a victim of a sweltering summer night but also of a restless mind. In one scene, Elio's father, Mr. Perlman, helps to lift a statue from its submerged depths in the water. Unlike so many ancient artifacts in statues that remain in museums to be untouched at a distance, this one begs for contact. It's beaded with moisture as if perspiring, and both Elio and Oliver are encouraged to put their hands on it.
Similarly, Call Me by Your Name, is that languorous tactile pleasure as Elio and Oliver circle each other in the first flushes of summer love. Even if we as an audience know what is going to happen before they do, it's hard to detect how or when it happens. And yet, it does irrevocably and perhaps inevitably. There is an arrogance in both of them, and yet a stunning vulnerability. This leads to both the confusion and the wonder of their relationship. Elio is precocious and yet still maturing, savoring words both before and after he speaks them into existence. Oliver is a self-assured Adonis, espousing good looks and an erudite flow of words, but thankfully Hammer imbues an innocence in his character, an almost startling youthfulness.
Call Me by Your Name is full of these touch-and-go moments; it's an example of a film that works so well because of all these elements that have come together magically. It's a delicate story that needed a revelatory Hammer and Chalamet to make it happen. Too much or too little from either of them, and the scales would have tipped too far. Guadignino understands this so well, and you get the sense that the two were only able to perform so completely because they trusted him. He never uses the lens exploitatively and even as he is able to capture their intimacy, he lets them breathe. He uses close-ups so sparingly, we appreciate every moment it's used. And Guadignino of course shoots on 35mm, allowing the grain to be an additional grit and texture to our visual senses.
The cinematography (done by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom) and the editing (Walter Fasano) all come together here. The film allows for long runs, letting us watch characters ride away into the obscurity of heat, or it cuts in the middle of an action. It has the effect of a poignant memory, like a scene that isn't perfectly rounded, but picked out of its context sharply. And Mukdeeprom's lighting is so effective, you'd never guess that of the 34 days of filming they had, 28 of them experienced downpours. The surroundings are as much of a character as the actors, and the summer beats make the story as familiar as it is removed.
What's refreshing here is that the conflict doesn't come from the relationship being homosexual, but rather a struggle of confusion over an undeniable and unfamiliar feeling between the two of them, and limits of distance and time in this relationship. And Call Me by Your Name is able to convey this sense that a truly remarkable slice of time has been captured on film. We can be immeasurably grateful that Guadignino and Chalamet were somehow able to get a snapshot in this nascent stage of this young man's life, both in the story and in reality. By the time this movie has finished its run, Chalamet will already have changed and matured far beyond this summer romance. And there is something fleeting and yet immeasurably lasting in the folds of this story. Despite the brevity, there is no dismissal over the intensity or importance of their feelings. On a side note, what a contrast Chalamet's character is here to the one he plays in Lady Bird, where he assures the audience in a trailer that "You will have so much unspecial sex in your life"!
Besides remarkable turns by Hammer and Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg as gives what must be one of the most moving monologues set in film. How thankful can we be that there is still this compassion to be shared, from fathers to sons, from filmmakers to audiences? That there are relationships here that speak of regret, but use that regret to impart hope and wisdom, to see potential and beauty in the possibility of their children.
On a final note, the music is another vital component and character in this movie. Transcendence in the form of Ravel, Bach, and the always emotionally raw and resonant Sufjan Stevens speak volumes. Although Elio's first piece he plays on the piano is an example of youthful exuberance and joy, his undeveloped emotion has a chance to blossom with the compassionate guidance of Guadagnino.