'Call Me By Your Name' Review: A Story Of First Love Worth Falling Head Over Heels For [Sundance]

First love has rarely been depicted as beautifully or as movingly as it is in Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name, an adaptation of the André AcimanTimothée Chalamet, probably best known as bratty Finn Walden from season one of Homeland), has a star-making turn as a teenager exploring his sexual identity. Meanwhile, Armie Hammer, a very good actor who's been stuck in some not-very-successful movies, is downright mesmerizing as the young man who changes his life forever.

It's the summer of 1983 and somewhere in Northern Italy, 17-year-old Elio (Chalamet) is spending the season as he always does: in his family's grand Italian villa, swimming and reading and hanging out with his local friends. Each year, his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) invites a graduate student to stay at the villa and assist him in his work. This year, he has chosen Oliver (Hammer), an impossibly handsome and irresistibly charming American scholar. Elio feels some kind of way about this newcomer, even if he's not quite sure at first what it is.

Elio and Oliver spend their initial days together circling one another, poking and pushing and pulling at each other in conversation, each one prodding each other to make the first move, each one wondering if he dares make a move himself. "Is it better to speak or die?" Elio asks at one point, echoing a classic French romance that his mother (Amira Casar) has been reading to the family. Her tale is about a knight in love with a princess, but it has special resonance in a queer romance. Oliver makes attempts to keep his distance and warn Elio away — Elio is, after all, the teenage son of Oliver's host and mentor — but eventually, they come around into each other's arms.

Call Me By Your Name review

As seen in his previous movies, I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, Guadagnino is a sensual director. (I hate to use the word because it sounds so cheesy, but there's really no better way to describe it.) The camera is always aware of the distance between Oliver and Elio, or the lack thereof. It admires their frequently shirtless bodies, which often look like the Greco-Roman statues that Oliver is studying — except, of course, that these bodies move and are warm and soft and pulsing with life. Even before the two share so much as a kiss, Guadagnino sets the mood with lingering shots of juicy peaches and runny eggs, and a soundtrack of buzzing insects. You can practically feel the late-summer heat on your skin, and the ripening desire that comes with it.

Hammer is enchanting as Oliver. We're as mesmerized by him as Elio is and, especially at first, almost as uncertain. He projects an easy confidence that seems to come naturally with those suntanned good looks, but only truly reveals himself over time. But it's really Chalamet's show, and every note he hits as Elio feels pure and true. We're aware of exactly when he is thinking about Oliver and when he is not (hint: most of the time, he is), and of when he is trying very hard not to think about Elio. He moves like someone still figuring things out — his lanky limbs jerk with sudden energy, or droop with disappointment. He mumbles to himself, he fidgets, he goes from comfortable to uncomfortable in his own skin in the blink of an eye.

As Oliver and Elio's relationship develops further, each leaves his mark on the other. Elio, being the younger and more impressionable one, seems more dramatically affected by Oliver, though there's no question that Elio influences Oliver as well. Sometimes, Oliver's impact is tangible; Elio starts sporting a Star of David around his neck, just like Oliver does. (When asked why he didn't wear one before, Elio responds, "My mother says we are Jews of discretion.") But for the most part, Oliver's effects on Elio are far subtler and far more profound. In the end, we're left with an Elio who's known joy and pain and sex and self-discovery. I won't spoil the final shot of the film, but suffice it to say it lingered with me long after I'd left the theater.

/Film rating: 10.0 out of 10