Saturday, August 21, 2010

CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION, arriving on Blu-Ray, is worth a second look

What may very well be director James Ivory's final film (the fellow is 82) -- THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION -- is now out on DVD and Blu-Ray, and a most interesting movie it is.  (The Blu-Ray transfer, by the way, makes the film look twice as gorgeous as it did on the big screen. As it looked terrific already, this is quite an accomplishment.)

With a cast to die for and cinematography that's equally fine, the film is a sit-back-and-revel kind of thing that seems to divide audiences.  TrustMovies found it fascinating -- from first frame through the surprisingly artful and ironic ending that says so much so quietly -- though he does have some friends who disagree with that assessment. He thinks, however, that any real film buff who has an appreciation for Merchant-Ivory movies (MauriceThe Remains of the Day, and so forth) should give this one a chance.

In case you missed it previously, I've lifted my original review from last April and planted it below.  Ivory's latest is now available, via Screen Media Films, for sale or rental.


How good it is to have James Ivory (shown below) making movies again. Actually, he made this one nearly three years ago, but it has taken that long to garner theatrical release. (Thank you, Screen Media.)  His latest -- THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION -- though missing the producing abilities of his late filmmaking partner Ismail Merchant, is up there with the best of his excellent work.  It's much smaller in scale than some of his films, and quieter, too.  Ivory's movies have always been wiser -- subtler, as well -- than those of many other filmmakers, but here there is even more of a sense that this filmmaker and his constant screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, as they approach their own final destination, are growing more thoughtful, their ability stronger than ever to see both within & without, the individual & the world.

In this delectable tale, based on a novel by Peter Cameron, a young and handsome university teacher named Omar -- played by Omar Metwally, shown below (who also essayed the tortured husband in the under-appreciated Rendition) -- in order to ensure his continuing career, has received a grant to write an authorized biography of a famous, now-dead novelist.  Though the novelist's estate/family refuses to give its authorization, Omar's girlfriend Deidre (Alexan-
dra Maria Lara, shown two photos below) detects in the family's mis-
sive a possible change-of-heart, and so off to Uruguay on a surprise visit goes our young man.

The estate -- an enormous, gorgeous parcel of verdant land (the film was shot on the Argen-
tine pampas) -- turns out to be run by the novelist's widow (Laura Linney), his brother (Anthony Hopkins), the bro-
ther's lover (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the novelist's mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her young daughter.  The group, welcom-
ing but mysterious, are brought to splendid life by these well-cast actors. 

Allegiances shift, though Omar -- a hesitant young man, at best -- never pushes things, and we slowly learn who these people are and what they want.  Compressing the novel has no doubt resulted in teles-
coping events and characters, and while this lends a certain "expectedness" to the plot (which is actually rather thin), so fine is the performance of each actor in his or her role that every second counts. Time -- and the movie -- never seem to drag.

What wonderful faces -- and the talent to back them up -- these actors possess!  Linney (above) is gracious but commanding, with Gainsbrough (below) vulnerable and needy.  Hopkins (two photos down) is stoic and smart, while Sanada (at right on horseback far below, the star of The Twilight Samurai, and the torn spy in Ivory's White Countess) remains warm and protective.  On the sidelines, as the town's wealthy gossip, is Argentina's Norma Aleandro (shown at bottom), herself no piker in the face/talent department.

I have never found Mr. Ivory any great stylist but yet look forward to each of his films for its beauty of place and time and for his usually very well-chosen casts.  Here, his fine Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (Talk to Her, The Sea Inside, Goya Ghosts -- and, my goodness, the last two films in the Twilight Saga) does some splendid work with color, light and dark.  Note the scene between Linney and Lara in the Uruguay home: It's rich, deep and beautiful.

There is a nifty little discussion toward the conclusion of the movie about whether life or literature is more important, especially as concerns the writing of the biography at hand.  "Life," insists one character, because "literature can take care of itself."  I would suggest that, here, life wins -- and out of it art is born.

At the finale of the film, one character remarks of another that she appears to have become a nicer person since they last met.  Indeed.  Ivory's movie has no villains, only characters who are unhappy, perhaps because they have not found their right "place." They finally find it in this lovely film, though it is not the place they might have imagined. The filmmaker's ending offers some wonderfully odd details of dialog and image that refuse to spell everything out but instead set you to thinking and connecting.  I hope that Mr. Ivory, approaching his 82nd birthday, will yet offer us more movies.  If not, The City of Your Final Destination, for me, makes an intelligent and graceful conclusion to a splendid career.

The City of Your Final Destination, from Screen Media Films opens in New York City on Friday, April 16, at the our great old art theater, The Paris. The following Friday, it opens in Los Angeles at various Laemmle theaters and then begins its slow national roll-out to other cities. Click here for specifics.

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