Italian film a US hit

UnknownItaly is celebrating success at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, as Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name” picked up the Best Feature Film prize, along with a Best Breakthrough Actor gong for its young star Timothée Chalamet. Although the Gothams are one of the smaller awards of the season and chosen by a small, select group of jurors, they are influential and have recently proved good at spotting Academy Award winners. “Moonlight,” “Spotlight” and “Birdman” were all winners at what Variety has called “the Iowa caucus of Oscars season”. Guadagnino’s film has also picked up six Spirit Awards nominations.

“Call Me By Your Name”, shot in English with an international cast including Armie Hammer as well as Chalamet, is a coming of age romance between a 17-year-old boy and his father’s 24-year-old research assistant and is set in a 17th-century villa in Lombardy during the kind of sun-drenched Italian summer that film makers from Bertolucci to Merchant-Ivory have never been able to resist.

The film has been garnering rave reviews in America and Britain, with NPR and Vulture both hailing it as “a masterpiece”. Most of all the critics have found it “ravishing”. Variety went for ‘ravishingly sensual”, Peter Bradshaw in Britain’s Guardian was “overwhelmed by it” and found it “ravishingly beautiful”. The New York Times described it as a “ravishment of the senses”. All this despite the fact that one of the few criticisms that have been made about it is a shortage of ravishing. The original script by 89-year-old James Ivory apparently featured a lot more sex and nudity, although a steamy forbidden-fruit scene – the fruit in question being a ripe peach – survived.

Italian cinema is experiencing a renaissance at the moment. After decades when directors seemed to churn out nothing but low budget comedies of manners about the love lives of thirty-somethings, along came Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, This Must be the Place), Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah, Tale of Tales) and Guadagnino, as well as others less celebrated but just as interesting. Italo-American Jonas Carpignano’s film A Ciambra takes a grittily neo-neo-realist look at the poor and marginalised in a Romany camp in Calabria. Gianfranco Rosi’s Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea), a documentary about the island of Lampedusa and the European migrant crisis, was nominated in the Best Documentary category at the 2017 Academy Awards.

Italy has won more Best Foreign Language Academy Awards than any other country, the most recent being Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, but despite this, and the recent flowering of talent, it is becoming harder than ever for Italian movies to find distributors in the all-important American market. U.S. audiences for foreign-language films have fallen in recent years. In 2016, the highest-grossing Italian release was “Mia Madre”. Although its director Nanni Moretti is a long time favourite of American cinephiles, it grossed all of $301,098, according to the IMDb. “Call Me By Your Name” has already topped that, taking a very respectable $404,000 at only four theatres in Los Angeles and New York on its opening weekend.

 

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