James Ivory’s first feature film produced since the death of Ismail Merchant is still worthy of the Merchant/Ivory banner

The City of Your Final Destination

on March 24, 2010 by Pete Hammond
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Marking his 24th collaboration with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, director James Ivory embarks on his first solo film since the death of his producing partner, Ismail Merchant. The City of Your Final Destination is a piercing and intelligent dramedy about a young graduate student whose quest to write the biography of a deceased Latin American author sends him to Uruguay and into a web of secrets, complicated relationships and unexpected romance. It’s also a fitting reminder of the unique films Merchant/Ivory once produced and, even in the absence of one of its founders, continues to support in a market not kind to this kind of literate, high style adult entertainment. With star names Anthony Hopkins and Laura Linney involved expect decent arthouse business, hopefully enough to keep the Merchant/Ivory brand alive for another round.

This tony adaptation of Peter Cameron’s novel was actually filmed three years ago and only now (through Screen Media) is finding its way into North American theatres, proving the difficulty of getting distributors for upscale, high-minded movie fare.
The story revolves around an Iranian-born graduate student, Omar (Omar Metwally), at The University Of Colorado, whose financial aid depends on his writing a biography of a late Latin American author named Jules Gund. However Gund’s estate denies permission. Urged on by his girlfriend (Alexandra Maria Lara), Omar travels to Uruguay (Buenos Aires doubles for it) anyway, where the extended Gund family all live together on the author’s dilapidated estate. There’s his widow, Caroline (Linney), who is dead set against the bio ever being written; his mistress, Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who finds herself increasingly attracted to Omar and vice-versa; her young daughter, Portia (Ambar Mallman); his brother Adam (Hopkins) who seems open to the idea of a book and Adam’s loving partner, Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada). The entry of Omar into this tangled web of conflicting agendas and philosophies threatens to disrupt a small and very fragile community that could come apart the seams. It also provides for the frustrating romantic sub-plot between Omar and Arden.

As evidenced in most of her adaptations, from The Bostonians to Howard’s End to Mr. And Mrs. Bridge, Prawer’s interest is in maintaining the literary roots of the material without caving too far into normal movie conventions. Thus The City Of Your Final Destination could in fact be her most literate and dialogue-laden work yet. It’s the kind of talky film of ideas that would be just as comfortable on a theatre stage. The Uruguayan settings add a touch of the exotic to the whole affair but at the end of the day it’s all about the words, that is until the uber-romantic, rain-soaked final scenes—the only section of the film in which Ivory really allows the characters to get swept up in cinematic flourish.

Performances are generally first-rate with Hopkins exhibiting an ease and laid-back approach that serves Adam perfectly while Sanada is a delight as his longtime lover. Linney’s line readings are biting, brittle and beautifully delivered. Gainsbourg is heartbreakingly simple and touching and Lara is dead-on as the girl who may come up with the short straw. Carrying off the central role with aplomb is Metwally (Munich) who exhibits just the right blend of ambition, determination and romantic vulnerability to make the characterization pay off. Six time Goya winning cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe’s lensing is another big plus.

Audiences looking for an intelligent, beautifully acted film experience with the kind of fine romance and sparkling dialogue we don’t see much anymore will find themselves richly rewarded with The City of Your Final Destination.

Distributor: Screen Media
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Omar Metwally, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Hiroyuki Sanada
Director: James Ivory
Screenwriter: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Producers: Paul Bradley and Pierre Proner
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Rating: PG 13 for a brief sexual situation with partial nudity.
Running time: 118 min.
Release date: April 16 NY, April 23 LA

Tags: Merchant/Ivory, Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Omar Metwally, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Hiroyuki Sanada, romance, adventure, travel, family
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