Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
Italy/France/Brazil/USA, 2017. Frenesy Film Company, La Cinéfacture, RT Features, Water’s End Productions, M.Y.R.A. Entertainment, Ministero per I Beni e le Attivita Culturali, Lombardia Film Commission. Screenplay by James Ivory, based on the novel by André Aciman. Cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Produced by Emilie Georges, Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, Marco Morabito, Howard Rosenman, Peter Spears, Rodrigo Teixeira. Music by Robin Urdang. Production Design by Samuel Deshors. Costume Design by Giulia Piersanti. Film Editing by Walter Fasano. Academy Awards 2017. Golden Globe Awards 2017. Screen Actors Guild Awards 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
Summer of 1983 in Northern Italy, and the blistering heat that radiates off the screen envelopes the family of an archaeology professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) who has invited his latest in a series of graduate students (Armie Hammer) to assist him for a few months. Hammer, tall and blond and godlike, catches the eye of the town’s ladies and makes an impression with his cocky American attitude, but no one is more affected than Stuhlbarg’s seventeen year-old son (Timothée Chalamet), who experiences an awakening almost at the immediate site of his visitor. An initial friction between the two of them eventually becomes an easy companionship that, magically, turns into a love affair that both initiates the young man into a deeper awareness of himself while further calcifying the distance that the older man has between his desires and his willingness to acknowledge them. These two have no possible future with each other, in fact it’s not even certain that what they have is a romance as much as a mutual need that they are lucky enough to realize and indulge in; with such surroundings and that feeling of gorgeous, intellectual languor that director Luca Guadagnino does so well, how can they let such luck pass them by? Unfolding in the most natural and unassuming manner, this emotionally striking film captures the pain and elation of a first sexual experience with incredible accuracy and generosity, all of it possible thanks to a breakthrough, world class performance in the lead by Chalamet. Presenting the kind of false bravura so common to boys of his age, a stony, mask-like face that can never conquer those vulnerable eyes, he delivers all his dialogue as if he is both demanding and questioning at the same time, sometimes charming us with his Chaplin-like, hustling dance moves (both seeking attention and deflecting it at the same time) and other times going to the dark and lonely places that this stage of sexual development usually requires (like a world-class scene involving an innocent peach). Guadagnino puts across his most intelligent direction yet, the accuracy with which Chalamet reacts to the first time Hammer puts his hand on his bare shoulder, or the small fight that erupts after said moment with the peach, shows the filmmaker giving the main character as much sympathy and adoration as he does aesthetic fascination, but he doesn’t leave the rest of the cast to hang out to dry either: Hammer’s Redford-like emotional unavailability is used to great effect, while the usually sharp and curt Stuhlbarg is made a softer and more available character than we’re used to him playing. The screenplay is adapted from the novel by Andre Aciman by legendary filmmaker James Ivory, who typically for him puts as much emphasis on sensuous delight as he does on the pursuit of intellectual rigour, marrying them beautifully when Stuhlbarg delivers the monologue that every gay kid wanted their father to say, and writing it with such poetic skill that prevents its being hokey or arch.