Gentle first love in Call Me By Your Name

The film Call Me By Your Name is a loving and faithful adaptation of a novel of the same name

Timothee Chalamet (right) and Armie Hammer are well cast in Call Me By Your Name.
Timothee Chalamet (right) and Armie Hammer are well cast in Call Me By Your Name.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES CLASSICS



132 minutes

Opens today at The Projector

4.5 stars

The story: In the early 1980s, academics who stay for a spell in the family home in northern Italy and help out his professor father are a summer ritual for Elio (Timothee Chalamet). When young Jewish-American scholar Oliver (Armie Hammer) walks through their door, he stirs up strong feelings of desire on the part of the precocious 17-year-old. Based on Andre Aciman's 2007 novel of the same name.

Having read and loved the book, I was a little apprehensive about a big-screen adaptation. The Egyptian-born American writer Aciman crafts lyrical prose and much of it is in the form of interior monologues in Elio's head. How would this translate to the big screen?

Drawing on a beautiful source text, Italian director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, 2010) has made a film that is its own kind of wonderful.

It is an adaptation that is loving and faithful, but not slavishly so. There is no voiceover, for example, but we still get glimpses into Elio's head through the clever conversion of some of his thoughts into dialogue as well as scrawlings in a journal.

From the gorgeous setting of an idyllic northern Italian town to the casting to the choice of music, the film-maker gets the details just right in evoking a world that we become completely immersed in.

Chalamet slips under the skin of Elio to give a sensitively tuned performance as he swings from the heady rapture of sexual awakening and first love to being torn apart by doubt and insecurity. He flits so naturally from English to Italian to French that it comes as a jolt to find out that he is American, born and raised in Manhattan.

His star-making turn has landed him Best Actor nominations for the Golden Globe Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards and wins from several critics associations. Nominations and wins have also been chalked up for best film, best director and best supporting actor for Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Elio's father.

Hammer is well cast as the athletic academic with the movie star aura, the object of Elio's desire. His Oliver has an easy confidence about him and also an innate sense of decency. He says to Elio at one point: "I want to be good, we haven't done anything yet."

Elio's raging hormones are acknowledged - there is a scene involving him and a peach and he also sleeps with a girl from next door - but there is more than unbridled lust between him and Oliver. They talk about books, music and people and share a deeply intimate connection.

There is also a remarkable scene that takes place between Elio and his father, which Stuhlbarg handles with grace and gravitas. The professor talks to his son about love with the wisdom of one who has experienced it and the protective instinct of a parent who wants the best for his child.

Movies often make a big deal about the sex talk, but you rarely see one in which a teenager and his parents have a serious conversation about romantic love.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2018, with the headline 'Glowing first flush of love'. Subscribe