Although the initial screen credit heralds The City of Your Final Destination
as a Merchant Ivory Film, the movie was directed by Ivory after the death of his longtime producing partner Ismail Merchant. The story is contemporary, unlike so many of the Merchant Ivory costumed affairs (Howards End
, Mr. & Mrs. Bridge
), yet has a place-out-of-time feel that would be appropriate to most any era. Based on a novel by Peter Cameron, the script is by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the screenwriter responsible for most of the Merchant Ivory canon. Typical of a Merchant Ivory film, The City of Your Final Destination
exudes a tasteful quality and style: It is exquisitely cast, lovely to look at and listen to, finely edited, and so on. The film has all the trappings of drama but no frisson. There is a central mystery, characters come and go, and overwhelming emotions are spoken of but hardly seen. The actors are all superb and capable of holding us rapt. But, by the end, we are left with much less than meets the eye. Omar (Metwally) is an American professor of literature who is seeking authorization from a dead novelist’s relatives to write a biography of him. His initial query was rejected by the novelist’s relatives – the executors of Jules Gund’s literary estate – so Omar travels to Uruguay to coax them in person. Arriving unannounced at the Gunds’ pastoral estate, Omar is generously given shelter by the family who nevertheless withholds permission for the biography. His primary opponent is the widow, Caroline (Linney), a haughty but sad woman who offers no rationale for her reluctance. More receptive are Gund’s brother Adam (Hopkins), a gay man living with his much younger Japanese lover in a separate house, and Jules Gund’s live-in mistress, Arden (Gainsbourg). Intriguing information about all these characters slowly comes to light but ultimately reveals no greater truths. Also part of the story is Omar’s overbearing girlfriend, Dierdre (Lara). Even though the film never drags, its story is very slight and inconsequential. When you get to the end of The City of Your Final Destination
, you may discover that there is no there there.