Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is spending the summer in a villa in Italy with his liberal, intellectual parents. His father, a historian, has a student visiting to study with him, the handsome Oliver (Armie Hammer), awakening new feelings in the 17 year old.
Chalamet is a real find as the well-read teen who understands everything except his feelings. He speaks in three languages and plays the piano and guitar for real, enhancing his already excellent performance. Hammer is also great as the older of the pair, completely changing my perceptions of him after only having seen him in The Lone Ranger and The Social Network.
Refreshingly for a gay film, it’s not about oppression, although it does disappointingly fall back on the cliché of giving both men heterosexual relationships on the side, so they’re not too gay. It’s interesting to see the classic ‘male gaze’ of the film camera fawning over the body of a young man instead of a young woman. It’s rare this happens, and while the film again feels the need to show a young woman’s breasts to balance this out, it’s certainly unusual to see a male character treated in this way.
The rural Italian setting, sumptuously photographed in the summer, looks like something from a Stella Artois advert. The film is almost painstakingly subtle in its approach, eschewing high-handed melodrama in favour of the gentle story of a slow-brewing relationship. This is both a strength and a weakness. Its subtlety is admirable, never giving us more than it needs to, but it may not be heavy enough on incident for some. It never quite reaches the giddy dramatic heights needed to make it stand out, and in particular following last year’s Moonlight, it can’t help but be eclipsed.