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The City of your Final Destination

Ismail Merchant may have died in 2005, but the Merchant Ivory tradition of literary cinema carries on with this film directed by his surviving partner James Ivory and scripted by their usual writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, here adapting a 2002 novel by Peter Cameron. Merchant lived long enough to make one contribution: He scouted the Latin American estate where The City of Your Final Destination was filmed. His loss was more keenly felt in the financing difficulties that kept the finished movie on the shelf for the last two years.

The team’s favorite theme of dislocation plays out in a mansion in Uruguay inhabited by the survivors of a novelist who won fame with his first book but never completed another. The son of wealthy Germans who came here to flee the Nazis, he left land and a moderate fortune to an unusual family: his wife Caroline (Laura Linney, excellent as always), his gay older brother Adam (Anthony Hopkins), and his mistress Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Both spoiled and stifled by their circumstances, they are roused by a visitor, a young academic (Omar Metwally) who needs their permission and cooperation to write a critical biography of the dead novelist.

Unlike the best Merchant Ivory films, who led many people to discover or re-read the works of E.M. Forster, Henry James and others, The City of Your Final Destination seems to exhaust its source more than illuminate it: The time spent with these people is pleasant enough, but they don’t linger with me. I would have enjoyed more time with Adam and his Japanese partner and less with the young man meant to spark the story: Metwally is likeably puppyish but a poor match with Gainsbourg and not at all up to the task of sparring with Linney. It’s beautifully photographed by Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who has worked on many of the best films from Spain of the past decade but is now tied up doing the Twilight films. At this film’s recent premiere in Rochester, Ivory, now 81, said he is developing a new adaptation of Richard II. Let’s hope this City is just a pitstop on the way to better films ahead.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for The City of Your Final Destination

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