Director Luca Guadagnino
I very much appreciate the cinematic qualities Mr. Guadagnino (I Am Love, and A Bigger Splash) brings to his film – the uses of framing, and tone, the pace in editing, and the way the story is told so visually – but I can’t seem to connect with this central story of a first love, and that has nothing to do with it being between gay men. In the current times we live, in which society is awakening to the way sexual harassment and abuse is so intrinsically rooted in our world, it felt pervasively creepy to watch a 30 year old man (despite that his age in the film is not specified and can only be inferred as 24) have an affair with a 17 year old boy. That this affair was consensual and welcomed by both parties and is a beautifully told love story, notwithstanding.
Twenty one year old Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird) plays 17 year old Elio, and 31 year old Armie Hammer plays a supposedly 24 year old Oliver, this year’s grad student intern staying for six weeks with Elio’s father Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), spending the summer of 1983 in Italy with his son and wife Annella (Amira Caser). Mr. Chalamet and Mr. Hammer are quite excellent in their work (the whole cast is), and Chalamet looks all of 17 while Hammer looks all of 31. I can’t get past the age difference which derails the film’s sweetness and accentuates the innocence of a boy who is still in the throes of establishing a sexual identity, confusedly, awkwardly seducing the French girl he’s known from summers past. It’s 1983 and no one is open about sexual identity, much less ‘out’ as a homosexual, so the whole affair is in secret, especially given the age difference and the ‘under the same roof as the parents’ scenario.
The strongest moment for me was near the very end of the film, after Oliver has left for home and Elio has returned heartbroken over the end of the affair. He sits with his father who gives a moving, tender and encouraging speech about appreciating the beautiful and fleeting relationship Elio and Oliver have shared, and confesses in a softly indirect but unmistakable way the opportunity for a gay relationship he missed when he was younger. He makes a veiled admission of his own homosexuality, confirmed in the last response when Elio ask if his mother knows and the response is ‘I don’t believe she does.’ Through this speech, the fact that Elio’s parents realize he is gay is acknowledged, and the unconditional love that they have for him is strongly affirmed. It’s a beautiful scene with Mr. Stuhlbarg at his usual best, and it makes the film. I wish something that compelling had occurred earlier.
Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom creates the beautiful images, drawing out the stupendous tones and summer colors of the Italian locations. Walter Fasano stretches out those images to create an effectively languid pacing. Music is used very well, especially the popular ‘Love My Way’ by the Psychedelic Furs, and the film credits Gerry Gershman as Music Consultant, and Robin Urdang as Music Supervisor. Most importantly, nothing in this film would work without the fine adapted screenplay by James Ivory (of Merchant Ivory fame).
In some ways this film reminds me of Blue Is the Warmest Color, not so much because of the gay relationship at the center of that film, but because it also tried to depict what a first love felt like for the main characters. Those two characters, and the actresses who played them, were very near in age, and there was no issue about the appropriateness of that affair. Given the difference in this film, despite the quality of the filmmaking, for me it’s a Should See.
- Manohla Dargis in the NY Times gives it very high marks and does not have the issues I have with it, although she does eloquently capture some of my feelings about the cinematic quality of the film. “There are moments when Mr. Guadagnino’s visual choices seem unintentionally in competition with the quieter, intricate emotions that his actors put across so movingly. He can be discreet to the point of coyness (bodies sweat but don’t necessarily grunt), but it is finally the insistent delicacy and depth of emotion that makes these characters so heart-skippingly tender. The charismatic Mr. Chalamet, Mr. Hammer and Mr. Stuhlbarg — whose brilliant delivery of a tricky speech pierces the heart and, crucially, the movie’s lustrous patina — transform beauty into feeling. In one alive, vulnerable and life-altering summer, Elio’s desire finds its purpose. He loves, and in loving, he becomes.”
- Both Justin Chang in the LA Times, and Alonso Duralde in TheWrap wrote thoughtful reviews and gave the film their highest marks.