Stressors that cause fear are something that, in real life, most of us try to avoid. Humans, after all, instinctively seek out that which offers them comfort. But for creatively driven individuals, flagged apprehension can provoke a different response — drawing them toward a project, for reasons sometimes difficult to articulate, like a moth to a flame.
Such was the case with Call Me by Your Name, a coming-of-age period piece which debuted to much buzz at the Sundance Film Festival and arrived at the Toronto Film Festival this week in advance of its awards-season theatrical release this fall. Adapted by James Ivory from André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, director Luca Guadagnino’s 1980s-set film stars Armie Hammer as Oliver, an American college student who spends a summer in Italy doing post-graduate study and finds himself slowly falling into a romantic relationship with the younger teenage son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), of his hosts.
“I met Armie right after the The Social Network, when I was trying to put together The Bigger Splash,” recalls Guadagnino during a relaxed conversation at TIFF 2017. “I met this dashing golden boy, and I found him really, really attractive in the most pure sense of the word. Armie is really a buoyant man with a great talent. He’s never shy. And Oliver in the book is described like a movie star — he charms everybody. So I sent the script and a week later I received a call. And when I spoke to Armie he said, ‘I feel a bit scared by this role.’ So we walked through it, and spoke about it. I said, ‘Fear is good, fear is like desire — you go toward your fears.’ We finished the call an hour later and he said, ‘Great, I’m in.’”
Hammer, for his part, was drawn to the subtle beauty of Call Me by Your Name, but was also wary — as much about fully understanding the narrative’s nuances as the subject matter itself. His talk with Guadagnino helped clarify those elements, but also led him to realize a deeper truth about the direction he’d like his career to take.
“It was just a beautiful conversation,” says Hammer. “(Luca) helped me see things from a perspective that was different than my own — in a way where I realized that I had to do this movie almost because it did challenge me and make me nervous. Through that conversation that I had with Luca we got on the same page, and it was great.”
The end result of the collaboration, evocatively captured by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, is at once wistful, sensual and melancholic — a beguiling story of summer love which serves as proof that facing uncertainty and anxieties head on can yield wonderful dividends.