"Is it better to speak or die?" - Marguerite of Navarre, Heptameron.
This one line, spoken by Elio's mother Annella as she translates a short story to her son Elio, lies at the very heart of Luca Guadagnino's astonishingly accomplished latest film Call Me By Your Name. A love story for grown ups that understands that to be young and in love is both wildly exciting and utterly terrifying at the same time.
The Perlman family seem to enjoy a gilded existence idling away their summers in an idyllic villa in northern Italy. Days are spent swimming, taking bicycle rides, reading Joseph Conrad or Antonia Pozzi, playing the piano, playing volleyball, eating fresh fruit straight from the tree, smoking, smoking a bit more, and dancing to The Psychedelic Furs 'Love My Way'. The world a vast ocean of possibilities laid out in front of them waiting to be explored.
Each year the family (father played by Michael Stuhlbarg, mother Annella by Amira Casar, and seventeen year old Elio played by handsome New Yorker Timothee Chalamet) take in a guest to help with the paperwork of Mr Perlman's archaeology business. In 1983 their guest arrives in the form of dapper, carefree, American Oliver (Armie Hammer) who soon woos both the Perlman parents and many of the local girls.
Elio, who's had to give up his room to Oliver for the summer, has more conflicting emotions when it comes to Oliver. Despite being tasked to entertain the guest and show him round the local sights it soon becomes very apparent that Elio's initial reluctance to warm to Oliver was simply a way of masking the attraction for him he'd had, but had been denying, all along.
As those long, listless, summer days of sexual awakening spread out Guadagnino does an excellent job of encapsulating just how confused, frightened, horny, and unable to concentrate Elio becomes. The film beautifully captures the thrill of first, or new, love, and the fear of rejection with all its furtive glances, appointments unkept, and borderline obsessive behaviour. Elio's face, when Oliver dances with, and snogs, a girl at an alfresco disco is an absolute picture of defiance, dejection, and denial all at the same time. Chalamet, not for the last time in the film, perfectly nails that forlorn attempt to cover up your feelings when witnessing somebody you've fallen for with another.
Chalamet's performance is excellent throughout. As he morphs from an awkward, yet precocious, boy to a young man with a startling similarity to Marc Almond he manages to convey, with a wonderful economy of expression, so much that rings true about the experience of growing up and entering the adult world full of its complications and duplicities.
Though Chalamet is undoubtedly the star of the piece, and we tend to experience everything that happens through the prism of his eyes (or, indeed, loins), the rest of the cast are great too. Hamer allows the character of Oliver to gradually reveal himself as not quite so confident as he'd initially appeared and torn between the conflicting messages his heart and head are sending him (he, too, wrestles with the issue of whether to speak or die). Stuhlbarg and Casar are endearing as Elio's almost too good to be true liberal, loving parents and props must go to Esther Garrel who as the sensitive, beautiful Marzia finds herself unceremoniously sidelined by Elio as his feelings for Oliver grow stronger.
The way the characters behave and carry themselves feels, at all times, utterly real. The supposedly 'strong' sex scenes are tender when they need to be tender, carnal when they need to be carnal, and awkward when they need to be awkward. Again, they ring true. Mr Perlman's impassioned monologue to his son that comes near the end of the film may have, in a lesser movie, appeared sermonising but both Guadagnino and Stuhlbarg have weighted it just right, given it just the right amount of gravitas, so that it too rings true and may even cause a lump in your throat.
Italy in the summer looks absolutely gorgeous (I suspect some credit is due here to cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom) but it's the wonderful cast, the fantastic direction, the music of Sufjan Stevens, FR David, and The Psychedelic Furs, and most of all the constantly gripping retelling of a story as old as time, one of love and lust, that makes Call Me By Your Name a contender for one of the best films I've seen in many a year. You'll never look at a peach the same way again.