Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name ★★★★

Luca Guadagnino is one of those directors who occasionally comes around to remind us that film can and should be more than just illustrated literature. God knows, in a time when even the best film vloggers seem to have married their copies of Save the Cat, we need those people. His rapturous, operatic, hyper-cinematic style has single-handedly taken the oft-mooted project of a Suspiria remake from something I'm dreading to something that actually makes a lot of sense.

In his latest film, made quickly and quietly between Suspiria and A Bigger Splash but released to great acclaim, he adapts a screenplay from James Ivory, one half of the Merchant-Ivory partnership that dominated British cinema in the 1980s and early '90s. This initially seemed strange to me. When I was growing up, I hated Merchant-Ivory for reasons that I assumed would strike a chord with Guadagnino. They felt insufficiently visual, tied to the text of the classic novels they adapted, and their obsession with the landed gentry was completely unrelatable to me.

In retrospect, while I'm still grateful Ivory passed on directing this script in favour of Guadagnino, there is a lot to praise about Merchant-Ivory. They were making films on postcolonial and queer themes at the height of the Empire-fetishising Thatcher era. Perhaps this is part of what younger directors like Guadagnino, Amma Asante and Joe Wright admire about a team I'd always thought of as pure cinema du papa. Either way, although Call Me By Your Name has all the languid, sensual qualities of Guadagnino's previous work, it's also a fair reminder of the strengths and weaknesses of its scriptwriter.

At first, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to take it seriously. As soon as Armie Hammer's Oliver enters, he starts erotically gulping down apricot juice and debating the Arabic and Greek roots of the word "apricot", placing particular emphasis on the Old English "apri-cocks". I wondered whether I'd missed a co-writing credit for Withnail's Uncle Monty. Timothée Chalamet's Elio is an odd kid too. It's not that he talks about Bach and Liszt - hell, I liked far more pretentious things when I was 17 - it's that he does so without any of the hesitancy, immaturity or even excitability I'd expect from someone his age. But then Elio begins to fall in love with Oliver, and we see that there are areas where he's defensive, uncertain and hormonal.

There are scenes in Call Me By Your Name where Chalamet so perfectly grasps the body language and behaviour of a young bi kid who's confused and horny and thinks no-one's watching, I wanted to file suit against him for stealing my old diaries. The setting - the extended family of an American archeology professor living in rural Italy - is so rarefied it occasionally leaves the Earth's gravitational pull, but the behaviour is real. Part of that must be credited to his excellent cast - and I'm pleased Armie Hammer is becoming the actor I always knew he was - but part of it is Guadagnino's eye for telling details.

Guadagnino fought shy of making this, on the legitimate grounds of having made rather too many movies about rich people falling in love in the Italian countryside already. If this is his last statement on the - er, is it a genre? - it's a strong one, a reminder that his maximalist style is the closest thing you can get to falling in love while sitting on your own in the dark. Some of Guadagnino's characters were born into wealth, some of them became wealthy. All of them are principled hedonists, people who see a value and a maturity in eating every fruit, listening to the song of every bird, playing every key on the piano, and his film-making lets you in on those pleasures. In a time when we're all being asked to accept the inevitability of permanent decline and austerity, it feels like a real moral stance.

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