For days now, I’ve struggled to figure out where to begin in communicating my thoughts on Call Me by Your Name. It’s not as though there’s any shortage of things to laud about director Luca Guadagnino’s delivery to this year’s Sundance Film Festival. I could speak to no end about how he milks the film’s Northern Italian village setting not only for every last ounce of aesthetic beauty, but also for a warmth and spirit that’d cause envy from any of us confined to the margins of the real world. I could go on and on about the startling humanity conveyed through young star Timothée Chalamet’s every verbal snap and abrupt corporeal whip. I could probably even manage a few hundred words on the sexual vivacity of the movie’s fruit spread. But these many willing prompts aside, my stunted progress in beginning this review derived from the challenge of articulating exactly what this film had to say to me.
Part of that difficulty is owed to the specificity of Call Me by Your Name’s message. That’s not to call it exclusive, as proved by post-viewing conversations with dozens of decidedly moved friends and fellow critics lucky enough to have seen the film at Sundance. Still, this generosity of reach is made something near miraculous given how acutely familiar the movie felt to my own personal emotional experience. Not only does Call Me by Your Name so vividly communicate ideas I’d never before seen executed on film, but that I’ve barely ever been able to put into words myself.
Much of this is carried out by way of the romance that blossoms between Elio (Chalamet), a winningly snide 17-year-old bookworm holed up in an early ’80s Italian Riviera paradise with his American father and Italian mother, and Oliver (Armie Hammer), an archaeology student who drops in on the family to play their summertime houseguest and academic apprentice to Elio’s professor pops (Michael Stuhlbarg).