Published in 2007, André Aciman’s novel also began its journey to the big screen the same year. After securing the rights, producers Peter Spears and Howard Rosenman asked their friend James Ivory if he would be interested in executive producing the adaptation. He would, but the project stalled as the search for a suitable writer and director began. Eventually, the Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino entered the picture. Originally hired as a location consultant for the Italy shoot, he soon became a candidate for directing duties.
This is when things became complicated. Ivory agreed to co-direct the film with Guadagnino and also wrote the script. But after changes were made, Ivory announced that he wouldn’t co-direct, hoping to avoid ”conflicts”. Still, all of it was worth it. Aciman himself was in awe of the finished script and found it damn near better than his own novel.
A 17-year-old is conflicted
Somewhere in northern Italy, 1983. Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American student in his 20s, arrives to spend the summer with the Perlman family where he will help an archeology professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) with his paperwork. The handsome American makes quite an impression on people in the village, but professor Perlman’s 17-year-old son Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is conflicted. Initially, Oliver’s carefree attitude irritates him (Elio mocks his habit of always saying ”later” as a farewell phrase), but at the same time he is intrigued.
As Elio spends the summer reading books and getting closer to a girl his age, he’s also constantly in Oliver’s presence and begins to acknowledge the fact that he’s sexually attracted to him…
Third part in a trilogy
The film is sometimes seen as the third part in a trilogy by this director where ”desire” is a common thread; the first two movies are I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015). At first there’s no real indication that Oliver and Elio share an interest in each other, not even when the former makes a discreet move during a volleyball game. Their romance plays out over the course of two hours, but Ivory and Guadagnino take their time telling it because neither Oliver nor Elio is open about their sexuality in each other’s presence. In other words, it takes time to lay the basic foundation for a romance. But we’re drawn into the film’s leisurely pace, the warmth and beauty of an Italian summer, the academic, rustic milieu, the 1980s details… and it feels entirely credible. Ivory may be pushing 90, but he’s been young once, so he remembers; after all, he’s also the director of the fine Maurice (1987), another story about a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality.
The love affair is awkward at first, filled with the usual excuses of ”we really shouldn’t be doing this…”, but then gives way to an intense passion, and a playfulness between the two young men. The filmmakers and Chalamet create an incisive portrait of the 17-year-old, torn between his desires; the most memorable sexual scene in the film has him doing unspeakable things to a ripe peach (!). Hammer is also very good as the more experienced Oliver who doesn’t take much convincing to fall for the hugely talented but insecure Elio. Michael Stuhlbarg has a moving scene near the end, a revealing father-son conversation that is a relief after all the condemnation of gay characters that we’ve seen from fathers or mothers in other movies.
The film doesn’t cover all of Aciman’s novel, which plays out over a span of twenty years. However, the movie’s impact is undeniable, with a last, bittersweet scene that focuses both on Elio’s tears and the warmth and comfort of his family, home – and future.
Call Me by Your Name 2017-U.S.-Italy-Brazil-France. 132 min. Color. Produced by Emilie Georges, Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, Marco Morabito, Howard Rosenman, Peter Spears, Rodrigo Teixeira. Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Screenplay: James Ivory. Novel: André Aciman. Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Music, Song: Sufjan Stevens (“Mystery of Love”). Cast: Armie Hammer (Oliver), Timothée Chalamet (Elio Perlman), Michael Stuhlbarg (Lyle Perlman), Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois.
Trivia: Shia LaBeouf was allegedly considered for a role.
Oscar: Best Adapted Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Adapted Screenplay.
Last word: “I sent [Hammer] the script. After a week, I heard, ‘He wants to talk to you.’ What I didn’t know is that he was going to pass. So he picks up the phone, ‘Hey, how are you,’ and it becomes a long conversation. He goes, ‘I’m scared about this role.’ Why? ‘I don’t know. I’m scared.’ I told him, ‘If you’re scared, it might mean that you want something.’ Which could sound like a sleazy way of approaching somebody, but the truth is that fear and desire are the polarizing elements of most of our actions. I think Armie wanted to have that fear and act it out.” (Guadagnino, Vulture)