Not that Oliver notices. He’s quite a piece of work, this one; casually shirtless all the time, cheerfully informal, and prone to little dance breaks that are charmingly bereft of self-consciousness. Somewhere deep in Elio, in a place he doesn’t really understand yet, a thick stew of attraction, jealously, and resentment comes to a boil, and soon they’re speaking to each other in coded language and loaded silences. The push-pull of their longing and flirtation is basically the third character of the middle section – “I want to be good,” Oliver insists, all but clinching that they will soon be bad.
Call Me By Your Name is a sexy movie, and one with something for damn near everyone – if not in the precise combinations, than in its portrayal of how carnal desire can simply become an inescapable, all-encompassing fact of one’s existence. Yet it’s not too solemn about this stuff either; witness the kindness and good humor of Elio’s very short first sex scene, or the playfulness with which he and Oliver literally play footsie at a key moment.
The wise script (by James Ivory, who most art film fans still think of as half of the Howard’s End-making duo) knows that sex is complicated, intimacy even more so, and sometimes it just turns you inside out. Good people are capable of both hurting and being hurt; when the young woman Elio has toyed with all summer asks him, simply, “Am I your girl?” his inability to answer is utterly heartbreaking. But he forges a simple and unsentimental goodbye of his own soon enough, and then realizes he’s maybe not such a grown-up after all.
Hammer’s is the kind of performance that’s easy to undervalue; he embodies this handsome smooth-talker so convincingly, you might miss the complexity underneath. His nuances are all in his offhand moments, and he doesn’t get a big spotlight speech the way Stulbarg does. Not that the latter actor treats it that way; his is a modest, lived-in performance, so he underplays his big scene, and beautifully. He doesn’t have to reach – the simple yet stinging wisdom and truth of his words, and the little gleam in his eye as he delivers them, seals the deal.
Occasional stumbles break Guadagnino’s spell: the lyrics of Sufjan Stevens’s original songs are just a touch on the nose, the women are mostly underdeveloped, and the “tasteful” pan to the window as their first encounter gets underway seems like a tiny bit of a cop-out, a leftover convention of another era. But that’s niggling; this is a lovely, contemplative, heartrending piece of work, up to and including its modest yet understated closing scene, which reminded me of The Ice Storm’s – portraying, as it does, the simple yet powerful act of a person allowing themselves an emotional release. It sounds small, but it has more genuine force than a hundred scenes of Marvel movie urban destruction.
“Call Me By Your Name” is out Friday in limited release.