During a six-weeks sojourn at a northern Italian town in the summer of 1983, American graduate student Oliver (Hammer) stays with the family of the American-Italian archeological professor Mr. Perlman (Stuhlbarg) to assist the latter’s academic work, and falls for his 17-year-old son Elio (Chalamet).
However, the narrative is told entirely through Elio’s angle (comply with its source novel), this first-love romance pluckily ditches the staple, extrinsic impediments of queer cinema, and consolidates an almost "anamorphic”milieu through which pulsates Elio's rite-of-passage of attraction, yearning, consummation and spatial separation, honed up by DPSayombhu Mukdeeprom’s unobtrusively sublime choices of sylvan charm (sun-drenched coziness, eye-pleasing verdure, barely-clad bodies, climatized in the cathartic cataract scene conjured up in tandem withOscar-nominated ethereal gem MYSTERY OF LOVE by Sufjan Stevens).
On the cusp of adulthood, (fortunately) Elio belongs to the rarefied intelligentsia sphere, a music prodigy who presumably piques Oliver’s interest by his ad lib flairof transcribing and transposing classic music pieces and the possession of a bountiful knowledge head and shoulders above most boys of his age. But under the surface of his pseudo-maturity and a well-played hard-to-get insouciance, he is a lethargy-ridden, hormone-driven adolescent who is completely smitten with Oliver’s carefree personality, Adonis figure and sensual charisma, who frets over his suppressed desire, and sensitively over-calculate the latter’s every gesture and wording, not until a roundabout confession that elicits a costive carnal experiment in one midnight and henceforth, prompts their mutual recapitulation to each other both physically and emotionally (at the expense of a cause célèbre forever ruining peaches for this reviewer), with their preordained separation looming over.
James Ivory’s adapted script encapsulates the urtext of love’s essence, when two hearts are lucky enough to attain a certain ineffable communion, and refines it through the prism of behavioral niceties and emotional cordiality, amounting to a crying purification that lends the story an infectious empathy that transcends any boundaries, yet it never veers into mawkishness, largely thanks to a godsendTimothée Chalamet, whose interpretation of Elio is so brilliantly organic and mesmerically affecting that there is a beguiling, imperturbablenaturalism seeping through his slender build, good looks, continental temperament and acting chops, and the film is topped off with a static long take closely examining his youthful face (in accompany with Stevens’ closing song VISIONS OF GIDEON), emotions gradually morphing from dolor into a resigned smile, a stirring coda that commensurates with the film’s ownmastery of sagacity and unostentatious conceit.
Cheek by jowl with a non-pareil Chalamet, it unfortunately takes the shine off a marginally ungainly Armie Hammer, by default, Oliver's inner thoughts are mostly at a remove, but his blokey nonchalance stands out as a perfect camouflage of his true self, and the truth is, he is in the receiving end of Elio’s irrepressible offensive and being the elder one, he takes on a more testing responsibility to ascertain that their ephemeral affair wouln't hurt a young, incipient Elio, a tendresse comes to fruition eventually, and rewardingly both Elio and Oliver’s characterizations flout the gay stereotypes and are pregnant with a sensible message that homosexuality is irrelevant to any narrow brackets, the seed can shoot up from wherever, whenever and between whoever.
Last but certainly not the least, armed with a persuasive heart-to-heart to console his forlorn son,Michael Stuhlbarg’sMr. Perlman steals the limelight with his broad-minded, illuminating encouragement apropos of“emotional bankruptcy”, which in any lesser hand would sound indoctrinating and/or vouchsafing. In the event, kudos to director Luca Guadagnino, his cast and crew, for my money, this sapiosexual Bildungsroman currently and comfortably sits on the top of 2017’s year-best list.
referential points: Guadagnino’s A BIGGER SPLASH (2015, 7.3/10); Todd Haynes’ CAROL (2015, 8.9/10), Francis Lee’s GOD’S OWN COUNTRY (2017, 8.7/10).