Call Me By Your Name (2017) – What I’ve Been Watching Review



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.

callme4Aged 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.

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman (2007)


The 2017 movie adaptation of this book starring Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer had a limited release in this country yet caused a considerable stir.  It appeared on many discerning end of year Best Movie lists and The Guardian had it at the very top as the Best Film of 2017.  Nominated for Golden Globes and also for four Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Song and Best Adapted Screenplay categories.  This film was unfortunately deemed too uncommercial for my local Cine-Plex and so I will have to wait patiently for the DVD release scheduled for March.

The film version was written by James Ivory, who with Ismail Merchant has been responsible for some of my favourite films of all time (especially “Room With A View”) and is an adaptation of the 2007 debut novel by Egyptian born, US resident since the late 1960’s Andre Aciman.  After publishing a number of non-fiction works Aciman put this out as his first novel.  There have been three more since.  The book has been reprinted as a film tie-in and on a recent visit to Foyles’ main bookshop in London I saw they had it as their number one book.  To fill the gap until the DVD is released I wanted to know what the fuss is all about.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that it doesn’t seem to be an obvious candidate for a movie.  Set mainly in one Italian summer in the mid 1980’s it is a quiet, introspective novel, the tale of a relationship and very little else.  Seventeen year old Elio’s Professor father invites a twenty-four year old American academic to spend the summer with them in order to finish his manuscript.  Elio comes from an intellectual family who seem to spark by having a studious house guest each year.  For Elio it just means giving up his bedroom until the sparks certainly start igniting when he meets Oliver.

Narrated by the younger man this is an undeniably intense examination of the minutiae of first love and lust with it building into obsession.  Elio narrates with such soul-bearing honesty that it’s almost like having an exposed nerve in a tooth to read it.  The introspection feels like writing from an earlier era, at times it even recalled Henry James, but unlike what I remember of James’ writing (it has been some time) the plot does move along, even if at the languid pace of an Italian summer.  I appreciate that this book is not going to appeal to everybody but I cannot recall reading a book where the relationship of one same-sex couple is exposed to such minute details.  The uncertainty, the shyness and the all-encompassing nature of this first love is conveyed quite brilliantly, and often very poetically.  When other characters are moved more central stage as they are in a section in Rome towards the end the power of the novel is almost instantly defused. 

At times I did feel like bashing the two main character’s heads together but I cannot deny the power of the writing.  I’m even more fascinated now to see the film version.


I read the Atlantic paperback version of “Call Me By Your Name”  It was first published in 2007 in the US, 2008 in the UK.