Director Luca Guadagnino’s last film was 2015’s A Bigger Splash, an exhilaratingly dark comedy-thriller set in his native Italy with sex at its black heart.
This, an adaptation of Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel co-scripted by the venerable James Ivory, who will be 90 next birthday, is also set in Italy but focuses on love rather than sex.
It’s the early Eighties. Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) is the precociously brilliant 17-year-old son of bohemian, intellectual Jewish parents.
Director Luca Guadagnino’s last film was 2015’s A Bigger Splash, an exhilaratingly dark comedy-thriller set in his native Italy with sex at its black heart
At the dinner table in their handsome home ‘somewhere in northern Italy’, conversation flits effortlessly between English, French and Italian, and politics, archaeology and etymology.
Elio plays the piano wonderfully and is no slouch on the guitar. He’s good-looking. Girls fancy him. He reads Joseph Conrad for fun. On the whole he gets on splendidly with his American father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an academic, and beautiful French mother (Amira Casar).
They’re quite happy for him to smoke and to lose his virginity with a French girl of the same age.
Into this groaningly liberal, middle-class set-up comes a dishy American, Oliver (Armie Hammer), also Jewish, who has arrived for the summer as a research assistant to Elio’s archaeologist father.
This, an adaptation of Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel co-scripted by the venerable James Ivory, who will be 90 next birthday, is also set in Italy but focuses on love rather than sex
Gradually Elio and Oliver, despite a considerable age gap, find a mutual attraction that crackles into infatuation before blossoming into love.
Both Elio’s parents are aware of it. Homosexuality is not the love that dare not speak its name, not around here. There’s a sweet scene towards the end in which the father acknowledges his son’s confused sexuality and offers his unequivocal support and understanding.
It’s a nicely observed film, rich in period and mood, and lifted by one really superb performance, by young Chalamet. But it is undermined by two misjudgements, one minor, the other much more damaging.
The former is an insistent piano score that eventually becomes tiresome.
But the major problem is the miscasting of Hammer. He’s a perfectly good actor, but so much older and indeed bigger than Chalamet that the relationship between Oliver and Elio, while lustily consensual, seems faintly predatory and inappropriate.
In the novel, Oliver is meant to be 24. Yet Hammer is 31 and looks quite a bit older than that. Ivory’s intelligent screenplay and Guadagnino’s sensitive direction are let down by the casting.