James Ivory at the Independent Film Project’s Gotham Awards accepting the best feature award for Call Me by Your Name. Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File. Courtesy
Call Me By Your Name (2017) has received tremendous acclaim for the directing of Luca Guadagnino, the breakout performance of lead actor Timothée Chalamet, and original songs by Sufjan Stevens. The movie stands out thanks to the creative work of these artists, who for the most part, are just entering the spotlight of mainstream culture. However, since one of my longtime favorite movies is A Room With A View (1985), the subtle beauty and passion present in Call Me By Your Name was very familiar. The reason for nostalgia is the screenwriter of Call Me By Your Name, James Ivory. A Room With A View is one of the many movies Ivory has worked on in his 70 years of experience as a writer, director and producer.
SInce Ivory’s hay day was several decades ago, it’s likely you’ve never heard of Ivory, or seen his more successful movies. However, during the 1980’s and 90’s, Ivory directed several award-winning dramas, including A Room With A View, Howards End (1992), and Remains of the Day (1993). Not to take credit away from the directing, acting, and cinematography, but Ivory’s contribution to Call Me By Your Name puts a layer of delicacy over every character that I believe most young viewers have never seen before. Instead of relying on traditional proclamations of love that involve long monologues, running, shouting, and stopping weddings, Ivory wraps every emotion into simple, heartbreaking lines of dialogue accompanied by a poignant glance. These vital moments can be so quick that you’re confused when two characters you thought hated each other are suddenly getting married. I’d recommend paying close attention when watching an Ivory film, and expect for lots to go unsaid.
The lack of wordy protestations in Ivory’s films is reflective of the common themes: unrequited love, repressed sexuality, and the general pressure of social norms. A Room With A View – one of the more light-hearted movies worked on by Ivory – follows a wealthy young woman marrying a man for practicality rather than love as a result of Victorian era expectations. Maurice (1987), which also takes place in the Victorian-era, covers the life of a gay man struggling to accept his sexuality. Howards End is about three siblings unable to fit into upper-class English society, and Remains of the Day covers the life of a butler in love with his mistress. The movies he works on tend to be about someone in love with the wrong person, and to an extent, this includes Call Me By Your Name.
I will note that many of the movies I’ve mentioned were produced by Merchant Ivory, a production company operated by Ivory and his partner Ismail Merchant. They worked closely with screen writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and together the three created over a dozen films. Although set in a different time period and directed by someone else, Call Me By Your Name can’t be grouped in with the Merchant Ivory movies mainly because it’s about innocence and it lacks the malice of society that is often the antagonist of Ivory’s movies.
Ivory plays only a part in the success of Call Me By Your Name, but his part is an important one that doesn’t overpower the other artists at work. His most recent work exhibits the timeless emotion added to films, as well as his compatibility with directors beyond his own generation and typical style.