It’s the 80’s. Italy. Peaches. Boy on Boy love. Luca Guadagnino’s coming of age love story is a fantastical, ethereal slow burn that traces the magical, pure, raw and languid qualities of first love. Based on the novel by Andre Aciman, Elio (Timothee Chalamet), precocious, brilliant and gifted with a musical ear meets Oliver (Armie Hammer), who is coming to stay for six long weeks in the summer of 1983 to study with Elio’s father Mr Perlman, a professor of classical antiquity.
The two characters share sleeping quarters, with Oliver relegated to Elio’s childhood bedroom whilst Elio sleeps next door. The two are partitioned only a bathroom. The film plays on distance and space as Elio and Oliver exchange languishing looks of longing, electric caresses and misguided first touches. Then there are Oliver’s absences from dinner and his arrivals and departures that puncture young Elio’s patience. The Perlman’s exquisite mansion in Northern Italy serves as the setting in which Elio can bounce about his awakening sexuality whilst himself and viewers fall under the same spell.
The delicate agony of first love is dealt with authentically and beautifully as Elio, a rather cerebral personality, overanalyses, mopes and moodily contemplates his fixation with the statuesque and exuberant Oliver. As Elio is drawn more into the emotional realm, he becomes passionate and temperamental, more direct and courageous in terms of provoking the object of his desire.
The almost masochistic desire that Elio feels for Oliver is palpable and sucks viewers into a realm of long, lazy summers where revellers dance, swim, cycle, drink, smoke and play volleyball. In this world, there is time aplenty to feel and think. I spent my time smiling at the screen, excited to see a film that rejected the crude, vulgar and sensationalised aspects of sex and desire in favour of the subtle, the real, the minimal and the enchanting.
Although there are scenes that tap into the primal, such as the peaches scene, these explorations of sexuality feel more earthy and sensual rather than exploitative or titillating for the sake of it. The film is wonderful at showing nothing whilst giving everything. Much of what goes on occurs under the surface and is displayed wonderfully on Elio’s face which is reactive, analytical and open in a way that is gloriously delicious to interpret. It’s a dance between the internal world of love and lust and the physical playing field on which it is consummated.
There is the same sense of dreamy longing depicted in fellow coming of age favourites such as The Virgin Suicides and My Summer of Love, when summer and sunshine inspire carnal, subterranean urges that threaten to be fulfilled. But as summer cannot last forever, Elio and Oliver are in a time capsule, on the cusp of a finish line as life menaces on past the slow safe-haven that the two have built.
Fresh and fierce, what this film excels in is its ability to transport you into Elio and Oliver’s shoes as they fall in love. It will remind you of your own first love or the first heartbreak or the first powerful crush that threatened to overtake your sense of reason and logic. Heady, tantalising and tender, this film cements why coming of age stories are my favourite. That precious time when you are on the border of adulthood that sparks so much regret and whimsy in later years…
It reminds us that desire is a beast that cannot be tamed; you cannot win with it. Either the desire will be extinguished and become something conventional, or it will run away from you, never to return.
If you can catch this beautiful romp through young love, you will not be disappointed.
All my love