Filmmaker James Ivory books trip to sedate "City"

Sun Nov 8, 2009 10:43pm EST
 
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By Deborah Young

ROME (Hollywood Reporter) - James Ivory's first solo venture after the 2005 death of his longtime producing partner Ismail Merchant reads like a loving salute to 49 years of Merchant Ivory filmmaking.

Completed in 2007 and only now appearing on the festival circuit, "The City of Your Final Destination" is a gentle, witty tale of a young Iranian-American academic seeking permission to write the authorized biography of a Uruguayan novelist.

The film is unlikely to set the box office on fire. Its appeal naturally will be to book-reading audiences who appreciate films with well-written dialogue, a tony cast (Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg), lush visuals and the triumph of civilized values.

Giving the sense of a journey completed is the incorporation of shots from Ivory's first documentary "Venice: Theme and Variations," shot in 1957, as a narrative flashback. But then, the whole film could be seen as variations on the themes that have dominated the director's work, from his respect for literature to the tender experience of young love.

Omar (Omar Metwally) lives with his unpleasantly domineering girlfriend Deirdre (Alexandra Maria Lara) on an American college campus where they both teach. When he is turned down as official biographer of novelist Jules Gund by the deceased's family, his teaching job is in danger. Deirdre pushes him to fly to Uruguay and persuade the Gunds to change their minds. Arriving on their sprawling country estate amid gauchos and pampas, he is taken in but made no promises.

Regular Merchant Ivory scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has adapted Peter Cameron's contemporary novel with typical Ivory tropes: Languid characters living elegantly in an international setting, where art has greater value than money but where the latter, being in slightly short supply, lazily moves the story forward.

As in Ivory's Paris-set "Le Divorce," several different couples' relationships are tenuously intertwined with a question of artistic inheritance -- here, the rights to an authorized biography, jealously guarded by Gund's widow Caroline (Linney).

But Caroline is not the only heir. Adam Gund (Hopkins), Jules' brother and a gentleman of leisure who lives on the estate with his much younger lover Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada), is in favor of granting the earnest young professor authorization in hopes that the publicity will help them pay property taxes.   Continued...