“What do you do around here?” the tall, strapping Oliver (Armie Hammer) asks Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the 17-year-old giving him a tour of the charming Italian village where Oliver will be living for the next six weeks. “Wait for the summer to end,” the bored-seeming Elio says with a sigh. “And what do you do in the winter? Wait for the summer to come?” Oliver shoots back. That only gets a chuckle from Elio, but that line nails the initial mood of Call Me by Your Name, Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous new romance, which follows a deep connection that springs out of those restless days of late adolescence.
Elio is the intelligent, charming son of archeology professor Samuel Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), with whom Oliver, a graduate student, is interning for the summer. Guadagnino’s film, based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman, charts Elio and Oliver’s relationship, which develops haltingly at first but then burns brightly. It’s a swooning tale about the seismic power of first love—one that doesn’t dismiss Elio’s experience as a folly of youth, but instead digs into the unmistakable trace it leaves, for better or worse.
It’s also a story of queer love that isn’t tinged with horror or tragedy, a gay romance about a genuine attachment. At the same time, Call Me by Your Name doesn’t attempt to sanitize itself as a bland, “universal” film in hopes of appealing to a wider audience. It’s both intensely erotic and intensely contained, acknowledging the very private lives gay men were forced to lead in the early 1980s, when the film is set. As a result, in Call Me by Your Name, virtually every bit of physical contact is crucial and electrifying.