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Call Me By Your Name

Year: 2017
Production Co: Frenesy Film Company
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: James Ivory
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar

Arthouse film fans and critics primed to celebrate inclusion and diversity on screens (between which there's a lot of crossover) were looking for a certain thing in this film, qualities that made it fairly critic proof. It is indeed sumptuously gorgeous to look at, director Luca Guadagnino and DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom making Northern Italy look and feel as beautiful as you imagine.

And it (rightly and respectfully) celebrates a young boy finding out who he is in an era where homosexuality would still have been very stigmatised, even in a comparatively more sexually liberal Europe.

The central flaw is also made slightly harder to see because of the performances. Armie Hammer is a tower of breezy, very American-style confidence, but I also loved Michael Stuhlbarg as the Dad, a professor who not only never wavers from his principles and love for his son, his academic pursuits, the arts and the intoxicating surroundings but manages to surprise you by revealing himself to be even wiser and more understanding than you've suspected.

But all eyes (quite deservedly so) were on the star-making turn by Timothée Chalamet, a young man who flawlessly inhabits the teenager somewhere between love and fear, belonging and alienation and brash swagger and awkward uncertainty about who he is and who he feels himself becoming.

But despite such qualities, there's one glaring problem with the whole movie – it's very dramatically empty. There's no drama or conflict. You keep expecting someone to discover the budding gay relationship and for there to be some dark emotional fallout, betrayal or shame, but nothing negative ever kicks in.

Even when the pivotal secret causes Elio to ultimately break the heart of the girl discovering adulthood with him, she calmly tells him they'll stay friends and she'll always love him. Replace it all with a heterosexual couple and it'd be a dull but pretty travelogue.

Elio (Chalamet) is at his family's summer mansion in a picturesque Italian town and like every year, his professor father (Stuhlbarg) invites a student to live with them while assisting with studies and developing the research.

Intending to do nothing all summer but smoke, read and laze around, Elio is instead fascinated by the handsome, borderline-brash American student, Oliver (Hammer). While he sees his friends, swims and starts a tentative physical relationship with local girl Marzia, he tries to distance himself from Oliver, too cool to let on how excited the older man makes him, all while being drawn to him like a magnet.

Guadagnino gives the proceedings a very sensual quality you can feel in everything from the barely-concealed frisson of excitement apparent on Elio's face when Oliver touches him to the warmth in the air and the cool of the water as they wade into a local lake. The sights and sounds are wonderfully evocative not just of an aesthetic mood but a quality you can almost smell and touch.

It's just that I spent the whole movie waiting for something dark to happen, and while I'm sure it's fairly refreshing to see a film where homosexuality doesn't lead to some awful fallout (anything from non-acceptance to sexual violence) the script by James Ivory, and presumably the novel on which it's based, forgot to include any real stakes.

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