‘Call Me’ director, 89, could set Oscar record

By Jake Coyle

AP Film Writer


James Ivory didn’t see “Call Me By Your Name” with an audience until the week before he was nominated for its screenplay. He caught it at a New York theater with a good audience, he says, that applauded at the end. It was his first tangible taste of the adulation for the film he wrote, about first love in Northern Italy, since it began its celebrated run at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

“I’ve just been thinking: What is it about the film that people respond to so much?” Ivory says in a recent phone interview from his upstate New York home in Claverack. “And I think it’s a story about a happy love in a beautiful place. I think that just appeals to people. It ought to.”

The pure and glittering romance of “Call Me By Your Name” has taken on an almost escapist quality in an awards season consumed with sexual-harassment revelations throughout Hollywood. But if “Call Me by Your Name,” about the sun-dappled relationship between 17-year-old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and a visiting grad student (Armie Hammer), radiates with the tumultuous emotions of youth, it’s also composed with the insight of age.

Ivory is 89, and should he win the Oscar for adapting Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel – as Ivory is widely expected to – he’ll become the oldest Oscar winner. (That is, unless the 89-year-old French filmmaker Agnes Varda, born a week before Ivory, also wins at the March 4 ceremony. Her “Faces Places” is up for best documentary.)

But regardless of the outcome, “Call Me By Your Name” has proven an unlikely yet altogether fitting encore for a master filmmaker whose films have already pocketed 31 Oscar nominations and six wins.

For some 50 years, Ivory was half of perhaps the most long-running and illustrious independent filmmaking duo in film history. With Ismail Merchant, his partner and producer, they made up Merchant Ivory Productions, a name virtually synonymous with literate, refined period dramas.

Together, with their regular screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, they more or less wrote the book on literary adaptations with films such as “Remains of the Day,” “Howard’s End,” “Maurice,” “A Room With a View” and “The Golden Bowl.”

Though sometimes superficially seen as stuffy portraits of upper-class life, the recent and ongoing 4K restorations of their work by Cohen Media Group has only enhanced the films’ intimacy of character and pristine economy of storytelling.

“A lot of directors don’t bother to go back and look at their films, but I do,” says Ivory. “If I hear that a film of mine is going to be shown on a big screen somewhere, and I haven’t seen it in a while, I make a point to get to see it. I just want to see it up on the big screen. My feelings don’t usually change much about it. I happen to like all our movies.”

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