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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

 

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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.

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Call Me By Your Name is now available on DVD in the UK.

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Mudbound (2017) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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Times have changed. Nowadays you don’t even have to go to the cinema to see a film just nominated for this year’s Oscars. On the day that “Mudbound” got a UK theatrical release it also appeared for streaming on Netflix and even in I watch nothing else this February then this will be worth the monthly subscription.

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“Mudbound” has been nominated in four categories: Best Adapted Screenplay (it is based on a novel by Hillary Jordan which I have not read), Best Supporting Actress for Mary J Blige, Best Original Song (performed during the end credits by Mary J Blige) and Best Cinematography for Rachel Morrison. Of the four the last was the one I was unsure about. It all starts off very dark, a storm is brewing at dusk and a hole needs to be dug. For the first five or ten minutes it is not always easy to see what is going on. Personally, that drives me more nuts than mumbled dialogue, as usually if you can’t hear there’s a subtitle option. I wasn’t happy about not being able to see, but I do recognise that this, on this occasion, is largely for dramatic value, rather than someone not paying the electricity bill, and the general air of gloom does lift.

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The film’s main setting is a farm in Marietta on the Mississippi Delta, an area, unsurprisingly, given the title, with more than its fair share of mud. It is the tale of a black and white family who both have men who have gone to fight in the Second World War. In the Jackson family it is Ronsel, who becomes a sergeant and drives a tank for the 761st Battalion. Jamie McAllan is a fighter pilot. A tough farming life continues for those left at home but when the soldiers return the racial inequalities of thee American South seem more ludicrous.

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The narrative is framed by the characters’ words. At one point Laura, wife of Jamie’s brother and mother of two uprooted from a very different life in Memphis to this mud-drenched rural environment says;
“Violence is part and parcel of country life. You’re forever being assailed by dead things.”
We know that the plot is building up, there’s a tragic inevitability about the whole thing because of what we learn in the first few minutes of the film but this does not make it any less suspenseful or appalling when things do begin to play out.

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There are some great performances. Mary J Blige is getting the recognition for her excellent world-weary portrayal of Ronsel’s mother, Florence, but there are a number of other strong contenders, namely Garret Hedlund and Jason Mitchell as Jamie and Ronsel, British actress Carey Mulligan as Laura and Rob Morgan as Ronsel’s father who had me really wincing when he tries to speed up the healing of an injury so that his family do not suffer for him being out of action on the farm.

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Rob Morgan with Jason Mitchell

I think that films that deal with issues of race are still very important, especially with the current US administration and this film tells a history lesson which is always worth repeating. The fact that it is getting official praise in the form of healthy Oscar nominations and is easily available in our own homes should ensure a sizeable audience. It deserves this as it is impressive in all areas and hopefully this will turn into some awards on Oscar night.

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Mudbound is available to view on Netflix in the UK.