Updated: June 2, 2021
Set in northern Italy in the summer of 1983, this internationally flavoured drama is a gorgeously nostalgic coming-of-age story that gets deep under the skin. With a career-best performance from Armie Hammer, the film is packed with complex characters and finely observed moments that have huge emotional resonance. And while the central story hinges on sexuality, it’s actually about finding the courage to express our feelings.
Hammer stars as Oliver, an American in Italy for his summer internship with author Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his artistic wife Annella (Amira Casar). And he has an immediate connection with their 17-year-old son Elio (Timothee Chalamet), a smart, inquisitive young man who is initially wary of Oliver’s brash American attitudes, then slowly develops a crush on him. Even more terrifying, Oliver seems to feel the same way. But Elio has a girlfriend (Esther Garrel), whose best friend Chiara (Victoire Du Bois) catches Oliver’s eye. And as they spend the summer studying, eating, drinking and roaming the beautiful countryside, Elio and Oliver begin to admit their mutual attraction.
Director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) tells this story with a blast of real-life energy, playfully allowing the characters to swirl around each other as they reveal little details about themselves. Each likeable person has flaws that make them strikingly authentic and easy to identify with. Intriguingly, all of them are seeing the events through their own perspectives, so their desires are crisscrossing in clever, powerful ways.
Veteran filmmaker James Ivory‘s script expertly captures all of these wrinkles, hinting at a range of feelings that are bursting with meaning. And at the centre, Elio’s journey to self-discovery has a proper emotional kick, offering Chalamet a stunningly textured role as an observant, gifted young man who is still working out who he is. Opposite him, Hammer oozes relaxed charm as the confident outsider who perhaps isn’t as self-assured as he seems to be. In his interaction with Elio, Hammer sharply reveals Oliver’s vulnerability. The entire supporting cast is excellent, and Stuhlbarg gets his own beautifully moving scene in a final coda.
What sets this movie apart is the way it creates characters who feel like they have vivid, full lives even when they’re not on-screen. So as they collide and connect, everything feels organic and full of possibilities. Guadagnino also uses the picturesque setting to further bring all of this to life in scenes packed with pointed interaction and deeper significance. And in the end, we are reminded that love and longing are something we should embrace.