Call Me by Your Name

Guadagnino, Luca

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Annotated by:
Brinker, Dustin
  • Date of entry: Sep-23-2020
  • Last revised: Sep-28-2020


The story begins “somewhere in Northern Italy” in 1983 chez Perlman, a multicultural and well-educated family. Every summer, the family (Michael Stuhlbarg & Amira Casar) host a classical-arts graduate student for six weeks at their holiday home. Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), the family’s 17-year-old precocious son, is expected to act as host and guide to the selected student, this year a 24-year-old American named Oliver (Armie Hammer). From the beginning, the two have a love-hate relationship; an unspoken emotional tension exists between them. Uncertain of how to handle this tension, Elio begins exploring his sexuality with his female friend, Marzia (Esther Garrel). He eventually, albeit obliquely, admits his feelings for Oliver, and the two begin a brief love affair during which Oliver suggests, in bed, that they call each other by the other’s name. Noticing the closeness of the young men, the Perlman parents suggest that Elio accompany Oliver as he spends a few days in Bergamo prior to leaving for the United States. The sojourn concludes with a bitter goodbye: Oliver departs by train, leaving Elio on the railway platform. Unable to complete his journey home alone, Elio makes a tearful call home for his mother to come pick him up. Back in town, Marzia, seeing a grief-stricken Elio, approaches and forgives him, insinuating that she knows about his recent tryst and that she will always be his loving friend. Months later, the Perlmans return to the town for Hanukkah. While his parents are in the process of picking next summer’s student, Elio gets a bittersweet surprise: Oliver is calling to inform the family that he is engaged, to a woman. The film concludes with Elio, grappling with a tumult of emotions, staring into the dining-room fireplace, the light flickering in his red, tear-sodden eyes.


Based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman, this multilingual film took the world by storm. Three languages sweep over the audience within the first five minutes: French, Italian, and English. The resulting language barriers add to the mysterious tone of yearning established by the musical score, whose key elements originate from Sufjan Stevens (Futile Devices; Mystery of Love; Visions of Gideon). Music, language, and literature act as conduits of the primary themes of the piece, namely those of precocity and sexuality. Elio embodies all three—his main hobbies include transcribing music, playing the piano, and reading. These themes are further captured by the symbol of the apricot; not only is this word’s etymology rooted in precocity, discussed openly in the film (12:02-13:09), but it is also a sexual symbol, pervading contemporary relational dynamics through emojis. Furthermore, the denouement of the film is heralded by a figuratively rich and overtly sensual scene involving Elio and the summer stand-in of the apricot, the peach, (1:34:30-1:40:24), beautifully encapsulating the aforementioned themes in the discrepancy between his intellectual maturity and emotional naïveté.                

Controversy surrounds this otherwise beautiful film, primarily regarding consent and age statutes. Although Elio is well over the 1983 age of consent in Italy and most United States jurisdictions, viewers, particularly American viewers, experienced discomfort regarding his relationship with Oliver. This is informed, in large part, by the historical perception in Western civilization of gay relationships as predatory. It may be appropriate and morally correct to look at the men’s relationship with skepticism; however, the power differential from their 7-year age gap is mitigated, in part, by Oliver’s deference to Elio. Moreover, the Perlmans support and watch over their son during the whole process, frequently checking in and pointing him to literary passages as points of reference. In this way, the film masterfully navigates a complicated and loaded social topic, particularly in the queer community.

Further depth is added by considering the historical context of the early 1980s. By 1983, the AIDS epidemic had globally taken hold, the virus only identified in France the May prior to the events of the film. “Gay cancer” was a widely used term for a rare and defining symptom of AIDS, singling out the Western community hardest hit at that time. The gay liberation movement of the previous decade became overshadowed by a merciless, viral specter of death. HIV is never mentioned in the film, but its presence must be known by Oliver, adding to his own hesitations and fears about his and Elio’s sexualities. 1983 was also rife with relevant political fallout: Gerry Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, became embroiled in a scandal involving a relationship with a 17-year-old, and Bettino Craxi was elected as Italian Prime Minister, eventually leading to the modern collapse of the Italian political machine. This latter individual plays a central role in the peripheral events of the film, his influence appearing on the television and in conversations with dinner guests.                

Call Me by Your Name is a masterpiece, one of the few movies that I can watch repeatedly. Despite my inherent preference for novels, this film, far and away, manifests a beauty missing from its literary inspiration. The actors perform splendidly, the music deepens the emotional journey, and the cinematography transports the audience perfectly to the setting. Every time I watch it, I discover greater depth and fall in love with it more, even if I can never look at a peach the same way.  


Screenplay: James Ivory

Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay (Critics’ Choice Awards); Best Male Lead [Chalamet] & Best Cinematography (Independent Spirit Awards); Outstanding Film- Wide Release (GLAAD Media Awards); Best Editing (Nastro d’Argento Awards & Golden Ciak Awards); Breakout Actor [Chalamet] (Gotham Independent Film Awards & Hollywood Film Awards)  




Sony Pictures Classics

Running Time (in minutes)


Based on

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman