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by Meg Grant, AARP The Magazine, April 19, 2010
The City of Your
Final Destination (PG-13)
A strong patriarchal figure can be an inspiration to his family…and occasionally a curse. The City of Your Final Destination, based on the novel of the same name by Peter Cameron, explores how those influences can persist even after he's long gone. Like most films from Merchant Ivory Productions (A Room With a View, Howard's End), it is set in an intriguing locale—in this case rural Uruguay, where an expatriate German family, headed by a famous writer, has lived ever since the rise of the Nazis. Hence, the movie also examines the culture of asylum among those who possess intellect as well as wealth.
Both topics make for fascinating character portraits, but, unfortunately, the story line here isn't in itself compelling enough. The City of Your Final Destination is the first film James Ivory has directed after the death of his long-time partner, Ismail Merchant, which perhaps explains some of the plot's missing pieces—and why the movie has mysteriously been awaiting wide release since 2007. But it's also Ivory's 23rd collaboration with two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
Omar Razaghi (Omar Metwally), an Iranian-born graduate student at the University of Colorado, is planning to write a biography of one-novel-wonder Jules Gund, who has committed suicide. But he's just received word that the author's family is refusing to cooperate in his research. Urged on by his overbearing girlfriend (portrayed as in caricature by Alexandra Maria Lara), Omar travels to Uruguay to try to convince Gund's relatives, who all live in melancholy isolation on a sprawling ranch, to reconsider his request. The plot tries to elicit dramatic tension from whether or not Omar is successful in persuading Gund's executors to grant him authorization. But does the audience really care about the technical status of a biography?
That said, the quirky and complicated Gund heirs that Omar discovers are an entertaining bunch. Gund's widow, Caroline (played with remarkable brittleness by Laura Linney), is fiercely protective of her husband's legacy and stubbornly objects to the biography, probably because she doesn't want the world to know her unusual living arrangement: before her husband killed himself, he forced her to take in his mistress Arden (a very intriguing Charlotte Gainsbourg) and their young daughter. Gund's older brother Adam (Anthony Hopkins) doesn't oppose the biography at all; in fact, he uses the conflict to hatch a plan to assuage the guilt he feels for keeping his much younger gay lover (Hiroyuki Sanada) from much bigger opportunities away from the ranch. Since Arden is undecided, her interactions with Omar are critical, and therein The City of Your Final Destination becomes a not-very-compelling romance between two people who've gotten where they are by taking direction from others.
The cinematography is beautiful, and the acting is strong. The tone and mood are serious while simultaneously lilting and, at moments, funny. See the movie for a taste of the ex-pat life of South America (it was actually filmed in Argentina). Empathize with the characters. But if you're yearning for story, you'll come away from The City of Your Final Destination unsatisfied.
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