“He seems very confident,” is Elio’s first impression of his father’s new grad student assistant, Oliver. This line foreshadows one of the subtle contributions to Elio’s budding affection for Oliver. Elio is young, skinny, advanced, but has an unsure reserved nature about himself. Oliver stands tall, wears half unbuttoned shirts, Wayfarers, and makes no excuses for himself. No excuses except for the one he requests Elio deliver his parents for his absence from dinner the night of his arrival, first impressions. This bit of mutual secrecy is the first shared moment together in their relationship and it lays the groundwork for the way they will spend the rest.
Elio (Chalamet) has an unusual and luxurious, idyllic life. He lives in a mansion located in a northern Italian village, has a beautiful native girlfriend Marzia (Garrel), and spends most of his days transcribing music and swimming. Even his name is nearly impossible to pronounce without the zest of an Italian inflexion. Each summer his father, Professor Perlman (Stuhlbarg), takes in a graduate student to assist him in his archaeological studies, this year it is the handsome Oliver. Oliver (Hammer) just got in from America and needs help finding his way around the village. Elio is more than happy to bike and walk with Oliver throughout the village and familiarize him with the area. As early on as this moment is in the film, the onscreen harmony they naturally possess is apparent, but still unknown to the characters themselves. Elio becomes inexplicably enamored with the visitor.
At first, Elio tries to dispel his feelings by focusing on the minute annoyances of Oliver. One such annoyance is Oliver’s proclivity for substituting “Later,” for a goodbye, which the whole family eventually comes to endear. He even shrugs off an attempt at a massage from Oliver who says he is tense, Elio’s adoring girlfriend agrees. The first moment when Elio has to reconcile with his true feelings for Oliver comes at a dance party. In what is surely to become a classic pairing of cinema with music, Oliver is dancing along with a village girl to The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way.” Elio watches jealously from afar with his friends, smoking a cigarette and drinking. Eventually, he takes the stage with Marzia and joins in the dancing. On a trip to the post office one sunny day, Elio finally professes his feelings to Oliver, who delicately lets Elio know that it would be inappropriate to act on. Over the course of the courtship, Oliver is fraught with uncertainty, due to him not wanting to damage the fragile Elio. This wears off as the undeniable attraction grows and Oliver is forced to take action, bringing on a summer of chemistry that will change them both.
This movie is full of attractions that are not easily quantifiable. This is due to the exquisite writing, acting, and directing that pervade the film. It is layered with such nuance we can’t clearly identify the motives of its characters or the magnetism of its world. Chalamet and Hammer miss not one beat, one subtle look from across the dinner table, or one passive aggressive playful slight towards the other. Free from external stimuli and subplots, we are allowed to focus our full attention on their union. You are immersed in their dreamscape world and manipulated into being so invested that it’s almost as if it’s happening to you. Towards the film’s conclusion, Elio’s father delivers a powerful and moving speech that’ll either make you pine for a past fling or make you regret never having one. I cannot wait to view this film multiple times, because I know I will reap something new each time.