By Marta Bausells
They had me at “Somewhere in northern Italy”. The phrase is scribbled over the opening shots of Call Me by Your Name: the protagonist Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet (pictured, above), pulling on a T-shirt as he looks out the window of the house of my dreams, watching Oliver (Armie Hammer), the future object of his affections, arrive.
Luca Guadagnino's 2017 film begins and ends with the house. The story of young love and self-discovery opens in the grand 16th-century villa in the summer of 1983 and culminates by the great fireplace in winter. The final scene is so heartbreaking I find it hard to rewatch the film, knowing what is coming at the end.
Villa Albergoni, where the film was shot, is distinctly Italian yet it reminds me of the houses in Spain where my grandparents would spend the summer. Not that those properties were as luxurious as this — the villa seems far too big for Elio and his parents. That is what allows them to host the American graduate student Oliver, who is there to assist Elio's father, an archaeology professor.
But like Villa Albergoni, my grandparents’ houses were open and fun, and contrasted with the small city apartments they lived in year-round. These were places that they had built themselves, in rural Castilla, or converted from a small, ancient farm, near Barcelona.
The villa in the film just makes sense. It is a house that is meant to be shared, and Guadagnino unashamedly leans into those earnest, tender, nostalgia-awakening details.
Paint is peeling off the walls. The windows are always open. Armchairs are in desperate need of reupholstering. There is an apparently endless series of rooms that have no purpose other than for quiet contemplation or intellectual work. One huge space features a piano, chairs, and coffee tables, with most seats already occupied by piles of books and papers (to which I can relate).
Then there are the elements that bring me directly back to those childhood summers in Spain, in the analogue late 1980s and early 1990s: eating outside, somewhere shaded; climbing plants covering the wall. And as much as the villa in the film is my fantasy version of those houses, so is the family in it: not one of them raises their voice; everyone is accepting of one another.
In different hands, the personality of the house, and those of the people who populate it, could have easily been insufferable. (Take your pick from any number of middle-of-the-road, romantic films set in Tuscany or on the Amalfi coast as an example.) In Guadagnino's movie, however, this wholly covetable, perfectly unkempt house manages to stick out as almost the Platonic ideal of all those tacky wannabes.
Of course, it's no surprise that a film so concerned with love and beauty should pay such careful attention to its setting. Guadagnino himself had dreamt of buying the villa for years: "Once I realised that I couldn't afford it and didn't really want it for my life, I knew where I was going to set the action of the film,” he has said. “This place with faded, aristocratic charm, that a professor and his wife might have inherited but can't quite keep up."
If I was to nurture dreams of winning the lottery and moving to Italy, this four-bedroom palazzo (listed at €3.2mn) in Cremona, Lombardy — the region in which the film was shot — would do the job nicely. With a big entrance hall, a living room with a fireplace, a study and a dining room on the ground floor alone, I could comfortably lounge around reading and writing, while the 18-metre swimming pool and two hectares of outdoor space would allow me to entertain entire villages.
Photography: Alamy; Lionard Luxury Real Estate