Review / ‘Call Me By Your Name’ (M) ***

IN the ’60s and ‘70s, cineastes would eagerly await the next film directed by James Ivory and Ismael Merchant and written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. And for good reason. Using Indian settings and actors, they examined the human condition in a culture much different from the cinematic mainstream.

Since Merchant’s death, Ivory has directed several memorable films. Now in his late eighties, he has produced and written this one. The result is less than I hoped for when I saw his name in the opening credits.

In a Jewish family in an Italian coastal village, 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is trying to deal with a burgeoning sexuality that presents a mix of yearning, confusion, excitement and frustration. In short, what every boy must learn to deal with.

To the house comes Oliver (Arnie Hammer) to spend the summer as a research student under Elio’s archaeologist father (Michael Stuhlbarg). It’s a loving, intelligent, cultured household that welcomes a number of girls from the local community.

Elio is a sitting duck for Oliver’s attention. Oliver is older, more experienced, and above all, a skilled player in the game of seduction. Elio isn’t exactly reluctant to receive Oliver’s attention. Nor is he rushing to partake of whatever delights might result from the friendship.

Director Luca Guadagnino has stretched out Oliver’s game that Elio thinks is simply Oliver being hard to get. The film is replete with lazy moments enjoying the sun, cycling down to the village, family gatherings, flirting with girls, father-son conversations, guests at lunch, swimming. These indeed have a place in establishing an ambience. So too do Elio’s fumbling attempts to attain the nirvana beneath a girl’s skirt.

However, the film’s dominant purpose is to examine Elio’s responses to Oliver’s game. Some are joyous. Others are disappointing. James Ivory has written them well enough. The actors do their best. But the story could have been told with no attenuation of its impact in rather less time than the film’s 132 minutes.

At Palace Electric

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