Last night at the DGA Theater, The City of Your Final Destination was screened. The first of James Ivory's releases without his life long business partner, Ismail Merchant, who passed away in 2005. The film centers around a doctoral student named Omar (Omar Metwally), who's recent grant rides upon getting a deceased Latin American writer's family to give him permission to write the author's biography. For me The City of Your Final Destination brought back feelings from the late 1980's and 90's Merchant Ivory Production successes, such as The Remains of the Day or A Room with a View. The grandness of it's location and it's people being a common thread, however this most recent offering seems as though it's missing something and it took me awhile to figure out what it was.
It is a beautiful film. It takes place primarily at an old isolated country estate in Uruguay. There's an impressive cast too, but there is a lot of unnatural exposition and a few odd hand held camera shots that didn't really lend to the scenes as well as a couple of contrived circumstances. Even those things didn't seem to really keep me from enjoying the film though. They felt somewhat minor in comparison to an engaging story and fine performances.
I had to ponder for awhile why I wasn't more swept away by the characters and the story in the way I was with earlier Merchant Ivory films. I wondered if it was because I was younger in the 90's and therefore maybe a bit more of a youthful romantic or maybe it's the times. It could be our modern times don't work with these themes as they did 15 or 20 years ago. After all our world has drastically changed since then, technically, politically, economically and more.
In the end I came to the conclusion that it was a combination of both but it didn't prevent me from wanting more work like this to choose from. It's a bit of nostalgia for a once rich independent cinema and stories of the old wealth and complicated Europeans of a bygone era. It's also a beautiful film though and no one is better in these than Anthony Hopkins. Charlotte Gainsbourg is her usual etherial sensual self here and is always so capable and believable inhabiting and expressing her character's needs. Laura Linney was slightly over the top but terrific none-the-less and Hiroyuki Sanada is subtle and beautiful.
James Ivory was on hand for a post screening Q&A and was casual and charming. He spoke about funding fits and starts as well as casting, the score and why it was made in 2007 and just getting it's release now (Mr. Merchant's passing among them).
It's a film that requires a bit of patience, something that today is often in short supply, but the strong actors and the exotic locale brings it home.