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Movie Review: The City of Your Final Destination

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Everybody has a story in James Ivory's The City of Your Final Destination - but not everyone is interested in having his or her story told.

Such is the biographer's burden: He knows - or thinks he knows - the story he wants to write. But getting other people to give him the pieces of the story is a different job entirely.

Based on a novel by Peter Cameron, The City of Your Final Destination, opening in limited release Friday (4/16/10), is an orphaned film that's been completed since 2007. But even with Ivory's Oscar-studded past, the current climate for independent film made it seem like a risky proposition until now, apparently.

It's not hard to see why. Quiet, deliberate and understated in its humor and romance, City is a subtle, polished story that is, in the parlance, "character-driven." There's not a whole lot of plot - but that doesn't mean there's not a lot going on.

The catalyst for the story, in the script by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is Omar Razaghi (played by Omar Metwally), an academic at an American college who apparently needs to publish or perish. He wants to write the biography of a noted author named Jules Gund, who wrote a single novel - but apparently a seminal one, called The Gondola. But Omar's query to Gund's estate has been rejected.

Pushed by his overbearing fiancé, Deirdre (Alexandra Maria Lara), Omar travels to Gund's estate in Uruguay, a mansion and property called Ocho Rios, and shows up unannounced to try to convince Gund's survivors to change their mind. They are, at a minimum, bemused at this upbeat, naïve young scholar.

But they aren't as negative as the letter would make them sound. In fact, Gund's brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins), is more than ready to cooperate. As it turns out, so is Gund's mistress (and mother of a young daughter), Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg), though she needs a little persuading.

The holdout is Gund's widow, Caroline (Laura Linney), who claims the writer specifically told her he didn't want a biography. Still, she agrees to let Omar stay at the estate, begrudging the hospitality but still welcoming the company.

But she is the least agreeable member of the household, perhaps because of the role she finds herself cast in - and the one she would wind up playing in the biography. She was, after all, still Gund's wife when he brought home the young mistress. And she was expected to give this young invader a place in her house - and to help rear the child Arden had with Jules, or at least treat the little girl like family, rather than an interloper.

Even as the Gund heirs start to change their point of view about a biography, Omar finds his view of Gund and his potential book shifting as well.

This review continues on my website.