How is “Call me by your name” a masterpiece? Let me count the ways

The best in arthouse fare in 2018, so far
Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

More than thirty years after his first Oscar nomination, James Ivory has finally been honored with his first win at the Oscars on Sunday, that of Best Adapted Screenplay, for “Call Me by Your Name.” In his acceptance speech, Ivory called the film, about first love, “a story familiar to most of us, whether we’re straight or gay or somewhere in between.” 

[James Ivory previously got nominations for Best Director for “The Remains of the Day,” in 1994, “Howard’s End” in 1993, and “A Room With a View” (1987)]

In “Call Me By Your Name,” adapted from André Aciman’s namesake novel, Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino takes us in the northern Italian countryside, where the skies are of a deep blue and the clouds roll down unhurriedly, for a gorgeously-shot and poetical same-sex love story.  “Name” centers  around two men exploring their love and feelings for one another. It is summer of 1983 and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious seventeen year-old young man, spends his days in his family’s seventeenth-century villa, transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who lavishes her son with the spoils of high culture in the beautiful setting of Crema, a city in northern Italy. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest that he is already a fully-grown person, there is much, still, that remains innocent about him, particularly in matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer;”The Social Network”) a handsome doctoral student with a statuesque body, is invited to stay at the house and tutor Elio.

“Call me by your name” is remarkable in its ability to capture the way that first love can blast our perception to bits. We see Elio grow into his sexuality, spending hours upon hours waiting for Oliver to return home, wondering where he is and who he’s with. When the two finally do consume their love, each is unprepared for the consequences.  Their relationship will become more intimate than sex. The bond they form will shape them for ever.

Guadagnino considers “Call Me By Your Name” to be the third in trilogy of films he has made including “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash.” “The movie talks about the universal theme of first love, and how even in the context of a gay relationship it is something with which everyone can identify, the director stated during a recent interview in the Hollywood Reporter. “Name” differs from most other same-sex love stories, because it shows the unspoken desire between Oliver and Ellio  in a way that will leave the audience thinking, for days to come, about a simple concept: that love should never be denied, or left unsaid.


The film premiered at Sundance in January before making its way to theaters worldwide. It was nominated for several Golden Globes as well as Screen Actors Guild awards and BAFTAs. Chamalet was passed up on the Best Actor Oscar, but his performance as Elio starring into a roaring fire, contemplating the idea of his lover Oliver, is so excellent, that it likely reached into the heart of everyone who was present in the theater.

Timothée Chalamet, Luca Giadagnino and Armie Hammer in Rome for the premiere of “Call me by your name”

Photo: Lavinia Pinzari (

There has been criticism about the age difference between Elio, seventeen, and Hammer’s Oliver, twenty-four, as well as, it is not gay enough. It is true that it is unclear if the two protagonists are gay, beyond this one special “friendship.” This is why “Call Me By Your Name” is above all else universal in the way that it tackles first love, whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual doesn’t matter.

While Aciman writes about sexuality so explicitly, the movie holds back about this crucial aspect of every lovers’ tryst. “I wasn’t interested in showing sex scenes,” Guadagnino explained during the press interview. “The tone would’ve been very different from what I was looking for. I didn’t want the audience to find any difference or discrimination toward these characters. It was important to me to create this powerful universality, because the whole idea of the movie is that the other person makes you beautiful, enlightens you, elevates you.”

There is one more reason why the film is such a masterpiece. Near the end of “Call Me by Your Name,” Michael Stuhlbarg, as Elio’s father, delivers an  stunning speech to his son about  how “it’s important to love, to feel, even if we grieve when it’s over.

Italy-based Monica Straniero is special correspondent to Screen Comment (@Monicastraniero)

Director Luca Guadagnino

Director Luca Guadagnino