The word “sumptuous” doesn’t get bandied about very much during Sundance when describing films. In the land of ice and snow, things are either “quirky”, “dramadies” or “depressing as shit”, but they’re seldom languid, or bucolic. Perhaps that’s what elevated Call Me By Your Name this festival, feeling very much apart in time, place and tone from what was occurring in the world, a thematic departure from the politics of the day and the cinema of the festival.
In fact, this is the most Cannes-like fable I’ve seen in Park City, its sun-dappled look and gentle touch the kind of thing lapped up on the southern coast of France. With a story written by James Ivory that’s part libidinous, part philosophical rumination, it’s practically begging for establishment art-house adoration, as opposed to the more scruffy idiom of American indie culture.
Based on the novel by André Aciman, Ivory’s script is a symphony of precociousness, a Rushmore for the romantic set, trading snark and pop-culture snap for more prosaic, homoerotic fare. The couple in question, Armie Hammer and newcomer Timothée Chalamet, are in a word exquisite, floating past one another with a grace that’s intoxicating. Chalamet in particular is a revelation – easily this part could come across as pouty and pedantic, but thanks to polyglot diction, dexterous piano playing and a woeful look he rises up to the film’s grand ambition.
Hammer too underplays his part deliciously, reminding that this actor with the leading-man face excels in providing impeccable supporting roles, as first evidenced in his double act in The Social Network. Joined by the equally stellar Amira Casar and Michael Stuhlbarg, it is an ensemble to applaud, each bringing complex takes on their well-drawn roles.
As the story unfolds in moments that are equal parts delicate, comedic, romantic and raw, the film manages to negotiate this dance with verve. Luca Guadagnino’s direction is deft, and if he brings half this craft into his upcoming Suspiria redux, we’re in for a real treat.
Thai director of photography Sayombhu Mukdeeprom may best be known for shooting the somnolent trash (and Palme d’Or winner) Uncle Boonmee by that fraudster Apichatpong Weerasethakul, but thanks to some actual storytelling, his images buttress the narrative gorgeously.
The risqué relationship doesn’t resolve in drama but in moments of great tenderness and sweetness. The monologue between father and son may be poetic wishful thinking, but it at least elevates parental discourse to an ideal, the way one could only wish as both child and parent to live through such a situation.
The film never drags yet takes its time, the passion is strong but never ridiculous. It’s a film of intense moderation and restraint, a paradox that somehow magically works.
Call Me By Your Name feels both fresh and vintage, and watching it, you can almost feel the warm Italian sun and smell the fresh breeze billowing through the orchards. A trip to a bucolic place of young love and intellectual rigour, it’s an intoxicating work. With even a modicum of light in your heart, Call Me By Your Name is likely to smite you as effectively as it did this jaded festival goer.