Elio (Timothée Chalamet) lives an idyllic existence living with his family in their villa in rural Northern Italy. When one of his father’s students, Oliver (Armie Hammer) comes to spend the summer in the villa, Elio is forced to confront his complicated feelings to the outsider and ultimately a bond is forged between them that develops into romance.
This is Luca Guadagnino’s follow up to A Bigger Splash, another highly erotic story set in a gorgeous Mediterranean location. But the sinister atmosphere of A Bigger Splash is replaced here by a different kind of tension. The scenes between the two leads feel dangerous. Their intimacy is at first sudden and finds both men at their most defensive. The palpable attraction between the two young men makes the inevitable release powerful and satisfying.
The setting is integral to the romanticism of the film. The family live in a huge villa where they discuss etymology in the startlingly bright library. They cycle through gorgeous fields and meadows to reach the architecturally stunning little town nearby. Fresh food is brought straight to them to be prepared in their quaint country kitchen and all meals are served in the orchard. When a character needs to brood they need not walk far to find a gothic ruin to drape themselves over. If a sexual encounter must be had discreetly there is bound to be a moonlit forest clearing beside the nearest gentle stream. This movie is how you wish your teenage years looked.
Chalamet is brilliant as the awkward but lustful young man who at first envies Hammer’s Oliver before becoming intoxicated by him. His inner monologue expressed only through mournful sniffs of Oliver’s boxers (the film is anything but subtle in its sexuality: a man fucks a peach). Hammer’s easygoing charisma recalls the natural (and unstoppable) dominance of Ralph Fiennes’s character from A Bigger Splash, only without inducing severe anxiety. They also both dance like lunatics, which is wonderful. He is able to charm everyone around him, including the audience. The chemistry between the two men both during their courtship and once the pretext has been stripped away fuels the drama of the film. After all, Summer can’t last forever.
Michael Stuhlbarg also deserves credit as Elio’s father and Oliver’s teacher, a paternal figure to both of the young men. Stuhlbarg gives a very subtle performance full of affectionate looks and hidden regrets. As a figure of admiration by the two boys he is unquestionable in the role. He exerts a peaceful satisfaction in everything he does. His speech near the end of the film about the importance of youth is heart-breaking.
This shall be the last film that Luca Guadagnino directs before he remakes Suspiria, one of my favourite horror movies. I still believe he is a wonderful choice for the job (second only to not doing it at all). He is capable of truly haunting imagery and beautifully observed human moments. Here he invokes a tragic nostalgia for a time that is over as soon as it has begun. Watching this movie is like going on a vacation to a land too perfect to actually exist. A land where Armie Hammer can dance maniacally next to a broken down car with an 80s Italian dance track on the radio whilst his young lover watches on. It’s a dream of a film.
5 / 5
Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing.