28-year-old Kansas University doctoral student Omar Razaghi has won a grant to write a biography of Latin American writer Jules Gund. Omar must get through to three people who were close to Gund - his brother, widow, and younger mistress - so he can get authorization to write the biography.
The Merchant-Ivory filmmaking team (Howards End
, A Room with a View
) always took scrupulous care in their literary adaptations, bringing a tasteful point of view and a certain erudite wit. The City of Your Final Destination
, based on a novel by Peter Cameron, has a literary concept even more page-bound than their usual productions, so director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala--longtime producing partner Ismail Merchant died in 2005--truly have their hands full. The setting is a country estate in Uruguay, the former home of a celebrated writer who committed suicide on the property. The survivors have repeatedly turned down the requests of a would-be biographer (Omar Metwally) to write about the dead man, so the scribe takes it upon himself to show up on their doorstep, leaving behind his somewhat pushy girlfriend, played by Alexandra Maria Lara (The Reader
). He discovers an unusual family unit: the writer's widow (Laura Linney) and his mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are living under the same roof, and a hedonistic brother (Anthony Hopkins) is also ambling about the property, his boyfriend (Hiroyuki Sanada) close at hand. Some days pass in idleness, as the subject of the biography comes and goes… an interlude that was perhaps more compelling in the novel than it is in the film. Ivory's touch seems tired, and the actors (an impressive ensemble, to be sure, including Norma Aleandro as a loud local lady) appear to be operating in their own zones and their own styles. Although the very handsome setting creates a pleasant lazy-Sunday atmosphere, the effect tends to tip over a bit too far into the soporific, and the whole thing might make you want to curl up with a good book instead. --Robert Horton