"Call Me By Your Name" is a documentary record of two beautiful, privileged young people falling in love during an idyllic summer in a seventeenth-century villa in out-of-the-way Crema, Italy. There are lots of slow, quiet scenes of eyes peeking above a book, furtive attempts to make fingers touch flesh, kids playing volleyball, riding bikes and swimming, and an old man showing up with a freshly caught fish for dinner.
Burgeoning nature is omnipresent. The fish, though caught, is still alive. The air is full of the sounds of birdsong, songs that will be evocative to anyone who has spent a summer in Europe when young. The grass is lush. The water is clear and blue green. Clouds are puffy. Everyone, from the young to the old, is half naked. The men are bare chested much of the time. Days stretch forever and the highlight of a day might be pondering the meaning of a quote from a knight in a medieval poem.
I did start becoming a bit bored, but at the end of the movie I felt pressure in my chest, churning in my gut, and moisture in my eyes, and I was rethinking my own lost youth. Give this film the time and patience it demands. It will sneak up on you.
One of the two young, beautiful, privileged people who fall in love is Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old virgin, and the cosmopolitan and multilingual son of Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his beautiful wife. The other half of the couple is Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old American graduate student who is rooming at the Perlman's villa.
When Oliver first arrives, he is arrogant and pedantic yet casual and Elio is snotty – Oliver is taking over his room for the summer. He, Elio, must sleep in a smaller, adjacent storage room. Elio is put off by Oliver's arrogance, and he continues to pursue his attempt to seduce a local, Mariza (Esther Garrel). Eventually Elio and Mariza do have sex.
Almost imperceptively, attraction builds between Elio and Oliver. Finally, one day, during a bike ride, Elio kisses Oliver. Oliver says, no, we shouldn't do this. Later, though, Oliver and Elio kiss and more. Read further only if you want to know how the movie ends.
Oliver and Elio become lovers. Before Oliver returns to America, they take a hike in the Alps. Oliver boards a train and Elio returns to Crema. There his father tells him that he is very lucky, and that few experience the kind of bond he has experienced with Oliver. The father also appears to come out to Elio, announcing either that he is gay or that he is unhappily married. "Does mom know?" Elio asks. No, dad replies.
Later, the villa is surrounded by snow. The Perlman family has returned to celebrate Chanukah. The phone rings. It is Oliver. He announces that he is engaged to be married. "I remember everything," he tells Elio. Elio goes and sits in front of the fire, his eyes brimming with tears, a fly crawling around on his shirt.
Both Elio and Oliver lead on girls whose feelings they could never reciprocate. The girls are tossed aside by the movie just as Elio and Oliver toss them aside in real life. After Elio has sex with Mariza, he shouts, "That felt so good." "That." She's a thing. Later, on the same mattress he used when having sex with Mariza, he has sex with a peach. A peach, a woman, both things to be tossed aside. Even Elio's mother, who is given very little to do in the movie, is made to be cluelessly living a lie.
More importantly, I resented the film trying to force me, in the father's speech scene and in the final seven minutes of Elio staring at the fire and crying while a fly crawled around on his shirt, to believe that the movie was about something other than what it was really about. I just don't believe, based on what I saw, that Elio and Oliver are a love affair for the ages. These are two gorgeous, horny young men in an idyllic setting, privileged enough that getting up and going to work every day is not an issue. Rather, they get up and loll in the grass while thinking erotic thoughts. Nice work if you can get it.
If these two had truly loved each other, they would not have tossed each other aside at the end of the summer. With the fly on Elio's shirt, and an infected cut Oliver sustained while bike riding, the film seems to be telling us that decay is the enemy of love. Some people love each other even as they age, sicken, and even after they die. *That's* love for the ages.
Some object to this film because it depicts a homosexual relationship. There's no talking to such people. Others object because Elio is 17 and Oliver is 24. The actors were 21 and 30 when the film was made. But Chalamet looks about 16 in the movie. He is very thin and pale with no chest hair. Armie Hammer is 6'5" with the body of an Aryan god. In their scenes, Hammer does look very much the older man. We know, though, that some of the folks who object to this relationship were entirely supportive of Judge Roy Moore, when he was a district attorney in his 30s, abusing young teen girls in powerless positions.