Call Me By Your Name is having raging reviews all over. This, I’m afraid, isn’t one of them. Luca Guadagnino, who few years ago gave us I Am Love (2009), now brings to the screen the novel by André Aciman, about a certain summer in Italy where a 17 year old boy, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), falls head over heels by her father’s research assistant, thirty something Oliver (Armie Hammer).
While in the book Oliver is 24 years old, here the choice to cast Hammer meant the relation went threading a very creepy and thin line between young silly love and older man/young dude power dynamic (and yes, the age of consent in Italy is 14, but that doesn’t take away the weirdness of it all). As Elio fools around with girls, he gets more and more obsessed by Oliver, by his looks (he seems like a walking Lacoste ad) and confidence, and maybe by his awful dancing skills. After what can be described as a very long peacock dance between the two future lovers (both showing off their brains and bodies to the other), Elio lets his feelings known, and Oliver – surprise surprise – seems to be up for it. Carnal and full of companionship, their relationship blossoms, until it’s time for Oliver to return to America and to his normal life, leaving Elio broken hearted.
’Tis but a sad story about first love, ay. But this ain’t Moonlight, brov. The screenplay by James Ivory (yes, the man who directed A Room with a View and The Remains of the Day) feels stiff, and the way Guadagnino films certain scenes definitely doesn’t help. The fountain moment is of a pretentiousness that makes our eyes bleed, and certain slow scenes – which seem to work as “filler” in an already overlong film – are just trying too hard. Maybe because there seems to be no chemistry between Hammer and Chalamet (Hammer, particularly, doesn’t look comfortable with the more intimate stuff). Maybe because their relationship seems to build out of nowhere (Elio does get across the teenage crush and angst, but where does Oliver’s interest come from?). Or maybe it’s because the age difference thing, in this day and age, can’t be read as neutral anymore. The two greatest scenes in the film don’t have Oliver on them – the father scene (where Michael Stuhlbarg channels Robin Williams 2.0) and the final scene, where the credits roll over a crying Elio (hardly a spoiler, that’s how all teen romances end) – and we think that is no accident.
The beautiful surroundings of a lost village in Italy are charming, of course, and the perfect fit for this Eric Rohmer/Grease style summer love story, but there seems to be nothing at stake – at least not openly. Elio’s parents have no issue with their hired help getting sexually involved with their teenage child (!!!), Elio loves Oliver, Oliver seems to dig Elio. The girl that Elio uses to lose his heteronormative virginity doesn’t even mind him ghosting her after sex. Apart from the fact that, yes, the romance will have to end with the summer, there seems to be nothing to worry about. If it wasn’t for the queer aspect, we even doubt this film would have been nominated for (and won) so many awards.
It’s just too Brechtian- oh boy, are they acting/reciting lines, playing around with classical references, even hammering the greco-roman sculpture subplot into it (with no further consequence – though clearly it is very greco-roman of the father to approve of an older man teaching his youngling the way of love…). An arty film for the sake of itself, trying too hard to be incisive/intellectual and queer relevant, and thus coming across somewhat insincere. Hammer was a bad casting choice, no doubt about it, and the soundtrack… John Adams, Ravel, Bach, Satie, Moroder… is too much of a classical mix tape. According to IMDB, there will even be a sequel. As for us, one was enough, thank you. A must watch to make your own mind about all the hype, and also for Chalamet.
Call me By Your Name was in UK cinemas from 27th October 2017.