Monday, December 18, 2017

Luca Guadagnino's lush and luscious love story, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, enchants

As fresh, ripe, succulent and gorgeous as the peach that gets its own memorable scene in the film, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is as good as you've probably heard, a not-to-be-missed movie for anyone who treasures Italy, beauty, and tales of first-love, longing and rapturous consummation. Adapted by James Ivory from the novel by André Aciman and directed by Luca Guadagnino (shown below) with his usual visual flair and an even greater sense, this time 'round, for character building via the slow accretion of specific, exactingly chosen moments, the film casts a spell that never once breaks.

Here are longing, lust and love as you have seldom encountered them onscreen, and one of this unusual film's great strengths lies in the fact that, despite the difference in ages of the protagonists -- one is a graduate student, the other a highly gifted teenager -- so strong, growing and genuine is the attraction and bond between them that no taint of wrong-doing hovers over the relationship. This alone is an amazing accomplishment, thanks to the work of Ivory, Guadagnino and the two terrific star turns by actors Armie Hammer (shown above and two photos below) and Timothée Chalamet (the latter, below, seen to very different but also excellent effect in Lady Bird).

The atmosphere, as seems always the case in a Guadagnino film, is highly rarefied -- wealthy, cultured and entitled -- but here, finally, the leading characters are much easier to care about and their emotions more specifically explored than are those in I Am Love or A Bigger Splash, two of this director's earlier films.

The relationship that grows between Elio Perlman (Chalamet), the son of a famous scholar and comfortably assimilated Jew (played with his usual pitch-perfect poise and uncanny character exploration by Michael Stuhlbarg, below), and Oliver (Hammer), that scholar's research assistant for the summer, is a fraught one indeed.

As happens every summer, Elio must give up his bedroom in order to house the summer's new assistant, but this year's version is clearly a bit different. Big, blond and buffed to perfection, Oliver would seem the goy of one's dreams -- except that he, too, is Jewish, if we can judge from the Star of David he wears around his perfectly formed neck.

The feint-and-parry tactics via which the relationship begins eventually give way to, first, a "truce," as Oliver puts it, below, in a move that is charming, funny and also symbolic of just how much of himself our grad student is willing to commit, and slowly to all-out passion and sexual fulfillment.

Interestingly enough, Guadagnino holds back on anything highly explicit or full-frontal and instead concentrates on the passions and emotions generated in and by the relationship. One friend of mine missed the explicit and felt the director unnecessarily held back. Yet, given the immense beauty of our antagonists' faces and bodies, of which we see plenty (despite the lack of "money" shots), the gorgeous Italian surroundings, of which we also view a great deal, and the accent on longing and attraction, it seems clear that Guadagnino is going for emotional specificity over the sexual.

Despite how very good Mr. Hammer is in his role, the movie belongs to Chalamet, through whose eyes, mind, emotions and body we experience most of what occurs. If this young actor does not get at least an Academy nomination this year, we will know that, yet again, they're asleep at the wheel. Chalamet leads us through surprise, disbelief, attraction, exploration, passion and finally grief -- with every step honestly and fully taken, including that of the betrayal of his would-be girlfriend (Esther Garrel, above, right).

As usual in budding romances, the accent is on the here-and-now rather than where the relationship might be heading. Even so, this seasonal-only affair has such built-in limits that it must clearly be one of those "summer loves." What this means to Elio and to Oliver eventually comes clear, and the movie offers a double dose of knockout endings -- one a quiet conversation between father and son, the other in which the camera simply lingers and lingers as we watch and consider.

Call Me By Your Name should take its place as of the movies' great love stories, even if it is, finally, sadly one-sided.

From Sony Pictures Classics and running two hours and twelve minutes, after opening on the coasts a couple of weeks previous, the film hits South Florida (and elsewhere across the country) this Friday, December 22. Click here and then click on GET TICKETS on the task bar at top in order to find the theater(s) nearest you.

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