Tue, Feb 06, 2018 - Page 13 News List

James Ivory may set an Oscar record; he’d rather work

The filmmaker, 89, is widely expected to take home an Oscar for ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ which would make him the oldest winner ever

By Jake Coyle  /  AP, NEW YORK

James Ivory accepts the best feature award for Call Me By Your Name at the 27th annual Independent Film Project’s Gotham Awards at Cipriani Wall Street in New York.

Photo: AP

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 ever. (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.”

For filmmakers known for tales about British aristocracy, they were an unusual trio: Ivory, the Oregon son of a sawmill owner; Merchant, the son of a Bombay textile dealer whose family protested the 1947 partitioning of India; and Jhabvala, a German Jew who fled Britain during World War II. Merchant called them “a three-headed monster.”

Merchant died in 2015, Jhabvala in 2013 and Ivory’s last film was 2009’s The City of Your Final Destination, which he prepped with Merchant and which Jhabvala wrote from Peter Cameron’s novel. The losses were profound, but Ivory never wanted to retire.

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