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The City of Your Final Destination(2009)
28-year-old Kansas University doctoral student Omar Razaghi wins a grant to write a biography of Latin American writer Jules Gund. Omar must contact and win the confidence of three people who were close to his subject: his brother, his widow, and his younger mistress. He hopes they will authorize him to write the biography.
For more about The City of Your Final Destination and the The City of Your Final Destination Blu-ray release, see the The City of Your Final Destination Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 21, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Omar Metwally
Director: James Ivory
» See full cast & crew
The City of Your Final Destination Blu-ray Review
Merchant Ivory rises fitfully from the ashes with this odd adaptation of a novel by Peter Cameron.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 21, 2010
Unless you are a film historian of some acumen, you probably have never heard of a little film called The Householder, and yet this 1963 examination of an arranged marriage in India heralded one of the most prolific, and ultimately celebrated, partnerships in film history, the storied filmic marriage of producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory. Though Merchant Ivory's contributions to film proceeded apace from this perhaps relatively inauspicious beginning, turning out a series of generally well respected films geared toward the Indian and British markets, they really started to make their mark on the international scene in the mid-1980's, turning out a series of classics for the next near decade which included A Room With a View, Howards End and The Remains of the Day. Merchant Ivory became the go-to imprint for the Art House crowd for a lot of that filmgoing era. The duo specialized in literary adaptations, almost always screenwritten by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and most of which evoked bygone eras, frequently (though not always) English or at least tangentially related to the British.
Merchant Ivory productions tended to be hyperarticulate, thoughtful, often quite langorous (in fact, downright slow a lot of the time), and built out of small character moments that revealed overarching themes of love, memory, regret and, occasionally, overweening ambition and class conflict. Always sumptuously produced and more often than not featuring world class performances by the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Everett, and Emma Thompson (to name but a few), Merchant Ivory was, for a time, the Tiffany of movie partnerships, unapologetically quality conscious even if that meant a lack of box office returns.
The film going public may have simply tired of the languid pace and historical settings of the Merchant Ivory films, or been swayed by the more in your face "charms" of Tarantino and Rodriguez as the 1990's churned along in its frequently manic manner, but by the time Ismail Merchant passed away in 2005, the brand had lost a lot of its luster. The City of Your Final Destination keeps that Merchant Ivory brand alive, if only fitfully, but the fact that the film has been embroiled in years of legal conflict (including a lawsuit by star Hopkins) points out the sad observation that it's at the very least difficult to go home again, or in this case, resurrect the level of esteem in which particular filmmakers were once held.
One of the peculiar things about this particular Merchant Ivory production is its contemporary setting. For fans of the producing-directing pair, traveling back to, say, Edwardian England was part of the fun of experiencing the world of E.M. Forster and the like. In the case of The City of Your Final Destination, we're instead squarely in the present, albeit one of some rather odd dimensions and situations. Based on a novel by Peter Cameron, The City of Your Final Destination deals with an Iranian émigré Colorado doctoral candidate named Omar Razaghi (Omar Metwally), who wants to cement his tenure and scholar bona fides by penning a biography of a reclusive cult author named Jules Gund, a man who had committed suicide many years previously (think J.D. Salinger mixed with Ernest Hemingway). Razaghi has written to the heirs and assigns of the Gund estate, rather strangely placed in far off Uruguay, a trio which includes Gund's elderly gay brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins), Gund's widow Caroline (Laura Linney) and, strangest of all, Gund's longtime mistress Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg), with whom Gund had fathered a young daughter. Though Razaghi is initially given a polite, if curt, rejection letter by the three, his Type A with a vengeance girlfriend Deirdre (Alexandra Maria Lara) urges Omar not to take "no" for an answer, booking him a flight to Montevideo where he can then wend his way through the tropical jungle to Ocho Rios, the secluded Gund estate.
The rest of the film is a slow cat and mouse game between Omar and Caroline, the most vocal of the biographical nay-sayers, mixed with a burgeoning romance between Omar and Arden, and occasional bitchy commentary by Adam. It's a patently strange set of characters in an equally strange setting, as languid (if not more so) as A Room With a View, but with none of the "comforts of home," in terms of a readily identifiable set of personae and locale. While the exotic milieu is on its face one of the alluring properties of City, it never plays against the personal drama in the way that, say, Florence, Rome and Surrey offer subtle commentary on the action in Forster's A Room With a View. Instead we have four disparate characters plopped down in an admittedly unique, if not downright odd, location, with little if any reason given for the juxtaposition.
I'm probably somewhat at a loss coming into this film without having read Cameron's book, which is evidently well regarded and even beloved by a coterie of fans, but Jhabvala struggles here on a number of fronts to properly adapt a literary work into a coherent filmic experience. Two repeated symbols, quicksand and (no, I'm not kidding) an apiary (i.e., a home for bees), sit there, to coin an equally mixed and inapt metaphorical phrase, like fish out of honey. We know what Jhabvala is getting at (at least in the case of the quicksand, a relatively artful summation of Omar's intellectual and romantic quests), but it's never cohesively woven into the fabric of the screenplay. There's also an arch literary quality to a lot of the dialogue which simply plays falsely, even in the experienced hands of such stellar performers as Hopkins and Linney.
What does work in City, at least most of the time, is the amazing work of, expecially, Laura Linney. Her Caroline is a complex and nuanced character, one who turns out to not be exactly what she seems, either in terms of her supposedly nefarious aims vis a vis the proposed biography, nor, later, when various skeletons tumble out of the familial closet. If Hopkins is fun in his admittedly semi-campy role, he really isn't utilized fully here, relegated mostly to the background. Metwally is largely a cipher, agreeable if never exactly memorable. Gainsbourg does quite well with her Arden, especially in the emotional denouement. Lara tears up the screen with a vicious portrayal of Dierdre, certainly one of the most instantly unlikable characters in the Merchant Ivory oeuvre. What's notable here, though, is that by the end of the film, there's a rather pleasant, if anticlimactic, wrap up of several characters' stories, where even the most distasteful people are shown in a friendlier, more accessible light. It's one of the saving graces of City that these "final destinations" manage to show us that while getting there may be half the fun (or indeed half the trauma), it's where these conflicted souls end up that's really important.
As with virtually all Merchant Ivory productions, there's a patina of grace and leisurely beauty in the cinematography, production design and, especially, the evocative score by Jorge Drexler (Oscar winner for Best Song from The Motorcycle Diaries). While the film itself is often dramatically static, there's always something gorgeous to see and listen to as the actors sit and wax philosophical about love, memory and regret.
The City of Your Final Destination Blu-ray, Video Quality
Don't let the opening moments of The City of Your Final Destination scare you off. After some pretty bad shimmer on an opening lithograph, we get a few moments of what looks like 8mm stock footage, with fuzzy detail and a wealth of grain. As director Ivory reveals in his short, scene-specific commentary included as a bonus, these incredibly grainy opening shots underneath the credits actually come from a 1953 documentary he shot about Venice. Why Venice, when the bulk of the film is set in Uruguay? Because reclusive author Gund's "one-hit wonder" novel was called The Gondola, and there is indeed a gondola in the film. Once the actual film gets underway, we're treated to a sharp and excellent AVC encode in 1080p and 1.78:1. City offers some wonderfully well saturated colors, especially in some of the opening scenes in Uruguay, where the brightly colored school bus Omar takes to Ocho Rios fairly bursts through the screen. While the Gund estate is somewhat darker, dealing mostly in tones of green (apt for its verdant jungle setting), the palette is always robust and well saturated, with accurate flesh tones and abundant detail. Best of all, despite large swaths of the film having a glut of leaves, there are no instances of shimmer or other artifacting.
The City of Your Final Destination Blu-ray, Audio Quality
It's probably no surprise that this Merchant Ivory production is a dialogue heavy affair without a lot of opportunity for surround immersion. That said, it's something of a surprise that City's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does indeed provide some nice moments of ambient surround activity, especially in the many outdoor scenes set at Ocho Rios. The buzzing of bees and gentle flutter of trees in the breeze waft through the surrounds, giving a remarkably lifelike representation of the actual environment. Drexler's score is also beautifully mixed into the surrounds, providing some beautiful, if subtle, immersion. Dialogue is crisp and clear and always easy to hear. While this is certainly not going to be a reference quality sound mix due to the limited sonic ambitions of this particular film, what's here is excellently recorded, mixed and reproduced.
The City of Your Final Destination Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There's not a lot of supplemental material here to get excited about. A 19:52 SD featurette entitled Sorting it Out in Ocho Rios provides long snippets of the film intercut with interview segments with Ivory and the stars. A separate 25:46 extra features an Ivory commentary over several scenes. It's enjoyable, if not very enlightening.
The City of Your Final Destination Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This is certainly not Merchant Ivory's finest hour, and yet there's the same luscious patina of quality and grace here that billows around the drama like a fine tropical breeze. Linney is perfection and the setting and characters are offbeat enough that this merits, with some caveats, a recommendation.
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