Although I wince at insulting such masters of beauty as Ivory and Jhabvala......

The City of Your Final Destination

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Director James Ivory and writer Ruth Jhabvala have teamed again to create an extravagantly beautiful atmosphere for their new film "The City of Your Final Destination." We feel the rain, the texture of the country driveway, the neglected overgrowth of the bushes, the isolation of the principals. By the time we have reached the two houses of the family Gund, we have soaked up the message the filmmakers are sending us. Drama in isolation.

            Omar Razaghi (Omar Metwally) is an American college professor who has decided to write a biography of the Uruguayan writer Jules Gund. In spite of repeated refusals by Gund's family, Omar goes to Uruguay and arrives unannounced at Ocho Rios, the remote family compound. The family? Gund's brother Adam (Anthony Hopkins) lives in one compound house with his lover Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada). Gund's widow Caroline (Laura Linney), his mistress Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her young daughter Portia (fathered by Jules Gund) live across the overgrown lawn. On occasional visits to town, one or all r run into another of Gund's mistresses (Norma Aleandro) who could be a rich source of biographical material for the professor.

            This intriguing premise and James Ivory's marvelous sense of place are marred by unfortunate casting and a bewildering tone deafness on the part of the filmmakers toward their characters. Ivory and Jhabvala's unerring eye for visual beauty seems to short circuit their grasp of human behavior.

            Actor Omar Metwally who plays Omar the professor/biographer, looks and acts more like a student than a teacher - a nice young fellow far too naive to be up to his big task. Omar has a girlfriend, Deirdre (Alexandra Maria Lara), an ambitious fellow New York professor whose domineering influence on Omar further undermines his stature. Since the two are not plausible as a couple, the story sinks right along with Omar's own credibility.

            Laura Linney never softens the acerbic front she puts forth to all comers as the widow Gund. She is too smart, too strong to remain embittered for so long. If her character, Caroline, had been deposited in this isolation by marriage, she would sooner or later have fled. These casting problems so diminish the story that the final scenes simply do not work.

            I learned long ago how unpleasant it feels to criticize the work of accomplished filmmakers from other cultures. Although I wince at insulting such masters of beauty as Ivory and Jhabvala, I suggest without embarrassment that they need a first rate advisor when they cast American actors.

            That noted, it is pure pleasure to watch Anthony Hopkins' Adam live his life out in exactly the way and place he has chosen, and to sink with pleasure into the isolated retreat that has seen so much drama. Our imaginations conjure the past from the sense of place so richly drawn by Ivory and Jhabvala. We are right there in Uruguay - in a terrific short story, but with the wrong characters.



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