Call Me By Your Name, a new (Merchant) Ivory film. Yeah.

Call Me By Your Name.

Once a year, crit­ics descend on a film to anoint it and declare it a film fit for grown-ups. Look­ing around, it’s not hard to see why. Every week, cin­e­ma goers are pre­sent­ed with a cast of inter­change­able super­heros who stand immo­bile against a green screen, as A N Oth­er arch vil­lain is CGId behind them, and the walls and ceil­ing of the cin­e­ma are engulfed in a blast of flames and a wall of sound, as the stu­dio respon­si­ble attempts valiant­ly to dis­guise the com­plete absence of a sto­ry by bury­ing us all in the 21st century’s answer to sturm und drang.

Giv­en that all seri­ous dra­ma aimed at grown-ups has long since migrat­ed to tele­vi­sion, it’s hard­ly sur­pris­ing then that any stray film that some­how slips through the cracks in the sys­tem to momen­tar­i­ly appear on the sil­ver screen is instant­ly pounced upon. This year’s crit­i­cal dar­ling is Call Me By Your Name. And it’s, well, per­fect­ly nice.

The unusu­al I Am Love.

Nom­i­nal­ly, it’s the third film in Luca Guadagni­no’s tril­o­gy of desire, after I Am Love (2009) and A Big­ger Splash (2015). But in real­i­ty, it’s the lat­est offer­ing from the Mer­chant Ivory con­vey­or belt. And there­in lies the rub. Because what you think of it will depend very much on what that means to you.

Pro­duc­er Ismail Mer­chant and direc­tor James Ivory were life and cre­ative part­ners for half a cen­tu­ry and pro­duced some 44 fea­tures togeth­er. Films like A Room With A View (1985), Mau­rice (’87), Howard’s End (’92), Jef­fer­son In Paris (’95) and Sur­viv­ing Picas­so (’96). Sol­id, depend­able, pro­fes­sion­al­ly pro­duced dra­mas revolv­ing around a reli­able ros­ter of reg­u­lar thes­pi­ans blithe­ly dis­port­ing their mid­dle brow cul­ture and earnest­ly extolling a lib­er­al arts edu­ca­tion — the majes­tic the Remains of the Day is mere­ly the glo­ri­ous excep­tion that goes to prove the rule.

Boys will be boys.

Call Me By Your Name was adapt­ed by Ivory, Mer­chant hav­ing passed away in 2004, and only lat­ter­ly became a Guadagni­no project. Elio is a 17 year old boy spend­ing the sum­mer with his par­ents in their house on the shores of north­ern Italy, where their evenings are spent lis­ten­ing to Bach being played at the piano as they air­i­ly dis­cuss the mer­its of Hei­deg­ger and Niet­zsche. His father, a pro­fes­sor of archae­ol­o­gy, has invit­ed an Amer­i­can post grad of his to stay for the sum­mer, and Elio quick­ly finds him­self attract­ed to the hand­some American’s rugged good looks.

The peer­less The Remains of the Day.

The boy reveals his feel­ings, and… they’re rec­i­p­ro­cat­ed. Mean­while, he los­es his vir­gin­i­ty to the girl next door, but when then he instant­ly cools on her, hav­ing lost his heart to the Amer­i­can, she responds with… com­plete under­stand­ing, and pledges her life-long friend­ship. And when his par­ents even­tu­al­ly cop… they’re com­plete­ly sup­port­ive. In oth­er words, there is absolute­ly noth­ing at stake.

Every­one is so insuf­fer­ably edu­cat­ed, and so over­bear­ing­ly well brought up, that instead of a dra­ma, all you’re pre­sent­ed with is a pic­ture-post­card, wet-dream vision of a would-be ide­alised upbring­ing. No par­ents are real­ly ever that under­stand­ing, and would that that were what the crush­ing dis­ap­point­ment of a shat­tered first teenage love real­ly felt and looked like.

It all looks mar­vel­lous, and it’s won­der­ful to escape into that sort of hokum for a cou­ple of hours of a winter’s eve. But be warned, that’s all it is. If you’re hop­ing for Wag­n­er or Bach, I’m afraid all you’ll find here is Tchaikovsky. Or, worse again, Puc­ci­ni. Come to think of it, he’d have been a much more appro­pri­ate choice for the soundtrack.

You can see the trail­er to Call Me By Your Name here.

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