Over the course of five decades, producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory joined forces – like Mighty Morphin Period-Piece Rangers – to deliver more than forty films to audiences. The consistent similarity between their projects, including films such as The Remains of the Day and A Room With A View, helped turn ‘Merchant-Ivory’ into an unmistakable brand; one which regularly attracted many (and similarly turned plenty away). The City of Your Final Destination is director Ivory’s first film since the death of Merchant in 2005, and it marks the end of an era. I’m apprehensive however to say that the film is missing something. The film is a warmly funny and loose – if perhaps a little bloated – romantic drama about an aspiring biographer who gets a little too involved with his subjects.
Omar Metwally stars as Omar Razaghi, a polite, misguided romantic who – thanks to some nudges from his pushy girlfriend (Alexandra Maria Lara) – is inspired to write a biography on the life of author Jules Gund. Gund is a mysterious author who published only one book in his lifetime, and killed himself midway through the writing of his second. Omar travels to Uruguay to secure the life rights from his family, who are – to put it lightly – unconventional. There is his devoted wife Caroline (Laura Linney); his live-in lover Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and their child Portia (Ambar Mallman); his brother Adam (Anthony Hopkins) and finally Adam’s lover (and technically, adopted son) Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada). Together, they live in idyllic/kinda boring peace with one another on Gund’s sprawling estate. O.K., in writing, their situation seems pretty weird, but in practice … well, it’s still pretty weird. Still, they all seem pretty well-rounded.
Omar eventually falls for the family and their intelligent, thoughtful, caring ways, and decides to focus the autobiography on them as much as Jules. He then falls for Arden – his softly-spoken counterpart – in a very real way. As he struggles to convince the individual family members to trust him with documenting their lives on the isolated Uruguayan estate, he begins to question his own devotion to the project, particularly in the face of his growing feelings for one of his potential book’s main characters.
Two hours is a touch too long to spend watching a man convince people to sign a piece of paper. Any longer, and it could have been a fatal flaw, but as it stands, it merely adds a little lag to what could have been a truly lithe little film. The performances feel honest, and are perfectly attuned to Ivory’s sauntering directorial pace. No one is in a hurry to have any epiphanies or enjoy the release of emotional catharsis. I appreciated it, although it does somewhat weaken the final pay-off. Saying that, the blasé nature of these characters – although enjoyable to watch – did leave me scratching my head on occasion. When a major character falls into a coma midway through the film after suffering a major fall, no one seems terribly concerned.
The City of Your Final Destination plays the Perth International Arts Festival from February 28 to March 6. Click here for more details.