Manohla Dargis of the New York Times says: “You don’t just watch Luca Guadagnino’s movies, you swoon into them.” There was much swoonage to be had in Guadagnino’s I Am Love, but his newest, Call Me by Your Name, invites not a swoon, but perhaps a pitch forward into a doze.
Erotic or sclerotic, it focuses on two American men in a highly unequal relationship in Italy’s Lombardy region in the summer of 1983. Young Elio (Timothée Chalamet) becomes fascinated with a handsome 24-year-old American student named Oliver (Armie Hammer). Oliver has come to stay in the family’s villa for six weeks to assist Elio’s archeologist father (Michael Stuhlbarg).
Working from André Aciman’s novel, scriptwriter James Ivory uses ancient art as a vision of homoeroticism unfrosted by Christianity. This is the kind of idea that gets politely described as so old that it’s new. Oliver strokes the boy with one hand and pushes him away with the other, leaving Elio notes that say things like: “Grow up. I’ll see you at midnight.”
Call Me by Your Name concludes with a much-praised monologue about the difference between old and young love, saying that the aged are no longer capable of the kind of all-consuming love felt in youth. Stuhlbarg delivers the speech with every ounce of his humanity. And not a minute of it can be believed. It’s no favor to his love-scalded son, and it’s hardly true. Age does what it can to put the brakes on the folly of romantic love, but of course, it never stops, all the way to the grave.
Guadagnino shows us Italy—the townscapes of Crema, the country roads, the stunning waterfalls, the villa with its rock-lined swimming pool—this is where the swoon comes in. Do people love the movie, or do they love the real estate?