Since I read the first review of this film following its limited UK release I have been itching to watch it. It didn’t come over to the Isle Of Wight where I live and my only option seemed to be to go over on the ferry to Portsmouth for a 9.30 Sunday morning showing, so that didn’t happen. To pass the time before the DVD release I read the book by Andre Aciman which has been given a new lease of life following its original 2007 publication. I was surprised by its introspection yet its brilliant, convincing portrayal of the all-encompassing nature of a first love that hovers towards obsession. It wasn’t an unqualified success, however, I did say I often felt like bashing the two main characters’ heads together. I was fascinated how this style above characterisation would translate as a film.
Aged 89 James Ivory has become the oldest ever Oscar winner
Expectations were cranked up even higher by the Guardian Film Critic proclaiming it as the best film of 2017 and Oscar and Bafta nominations being spread amongst the acting, writing, music and best picture categories. Both a Bafta and an Oscar were picked up by veteran James Ivory for his screenplay adaptation which made me confident that it was going to be really special in terms of the story it had to tell and the way in which it was going to be told. When I saw it, at last, on the DVD shelves in Tesco I wasted no time in putting it into the trolley.
Quite simply, I think it had built it up too much in my mind. All of its elements are strong but did not blow me away. Location-wise it is often stunning and as I look out of the window at a snow blizzard this morning a return visit to the film’s Italian summer of 1983 seems tempting. Acting wise, the portrayal of 24 year old American academic Oliver (Armie Hammer) and 17 year old Elio (the Oscar nominated Timothee Chalamet) were both strong but what I found less convincing in the film compared to the book was the sense of attraction and chemistry between them. I have seen this done recently so much better in a 2017 British film “God’s Own Country” where an angry, repressed young Yorkshire farmer meets up with a migrant Romanian farm worker in the bleak environment of a sheep farm around lambing time in a film which was almost brutal in its honesty and totally convincing. Without this belief in the central relationship of “Call Me By Your Name” it felt less of a positive experience.
Screenplay-wise, James Ivory inserts a symbolic (perhaps?) interlude at Lake Garda and wisely plays down the least successful part of the book when the pair mix with others on a stay in Rome. I’m not sure what the Garda segment really adds, other than more scenery to feel awed by.
There are those who are calling “Call Me By Your Name” the best gay-themed film of all time. It isn’t (“Beautiful Thing”, “Moonlight”, “Pride”, “Milk”, “The Way He Looks” as well as the aforementioned “God’s Own Country” immediately spring to mind as more fulfilling cinematic experiences) but it is significant and certainly worth watching and if those that are heralding are using it to replace the dour “Brokeback Mountain” in their pole position then I’m all for them. If I had caught that Sunday morning ferry and seen it early on its release I might have very well been astounded by it but after all the recommendations, praise and awards it led me feeling unexpectedly underwhelmed.
Call Me By Your Name is now available on DVD in the UK.