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Dear friends and readers,

As better movies have a way of disappearing quickly without trace if they don't get an audience quickly, I thought I'd write briefly today to recommend (a must-see!) the new Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvals movie, The City of Your Final Destination.  I went with Izzy and a friend to see it yesterday and we just reveled in it.

A promotional poster for the movie

Based on a Peter Cameron novel, it has all the merits of MIJ movies: Jhabvala's wonderful script (turning I think a masculinist novel into a equal poise),  the pleasures of beautiful photography (most of the film takes place in Uruguay, and the film was shot in Argentina); complex characters, an adult theme, good acting, witty and moving scripts.  The story is literary in the usual way too:  a young Ph.D. student-teacher, Omar Metwally (Omar Razaghi), wants, needs to write a literary biography of a now dead (killed himself) novelist, whose one extant novel, The Gondolier is the center of Metwally's career.  Metwally has been refused permission to write the biography. His ambitious and astutely networking and quietly domineering partner, Deirdre (Alexandra Maria Lara, Tonya in the 2001 Dr Zhivago, ever the conventional type it seems, here hard), insists he go to Uruguay to get permission. Pushes him to.  He himself is the kindly decent sort, made to feel bad about himself by Deirdre,
wanting to be on his own, unable to kick the habit:

Facing Deirdre when she comes to Uruguay, hearing her, comparing her

When he gets there, he finds himself in a kind of broken unconventional albeit discontented paradise where the people are near broke -- but also  live a pleasurable deeply unambitious existence.  Not that they all like this:  the novelist's wife, Caroline (Laura Linley) is embittered in her longing to go to New York and I was delighted to find the movie joke is how New York is to her like Moscow is to Olga -except of course the irony is the one who repeats this is Caroline, last seen burning her husband's unpublished manuscript:

Anthony Hopkins impeccably named Adam (in a lair called Mill Place) delivers an astute performance as an aging older brother of the novelist living with his beloved 40 year old partner, Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada), who he wants to help leave him by smuggling jewels out -- so he is willing to sign off on an autobiography if Metwally agrees.  Not that Pete wants to go; he is the lost citizen of many wars, rescued by Hopkins at 14 and taken to England (it goes without saying this is rescue from Southeast Asia at the time) and now living with him. 

Don't send me away; Adam doesn't want him to go but thinks maybe this is not a life.

Pete is categorized as Adama's son; Adam had to adopt him to get his legal permission to live there.  That's the kind of quiet satire of our familial arrangements this film contains.

Pete takes care of the place, enlists Omar Metwally who however  falls off a ladder, is stung by a bee, and Deirdre makes it her businesss to show up now. She would do fine in a conference room among fellow tenured academics; here she is seen for what she is: behaving in performative ugly ways to bully others into her way of doing things and thinking.

It does nowhere here. Caroline is a match for her.

Need I add that the novelist also had a young mistress, Arden, whom he picked up (like a "kitten" it's said -- a romance motif) in her teens the way Hopkins has picked up Pete, but as they are heteros,our novelists impregnated Arden and her child is there, daily going to school on a bus, around to be kissed and hugged. Both are still living there, and she falls in love with Metwally. Now Charlotte Gainsbourg plays this role; her typology includes Jane Eyre.

'Nuff said except they live au naturel. Charlotte as Arden makes real sandwiches and squeezes oranges for breakfast.  A lovely touch there.

Well that's enough for the situation.  There is no driving plot, lots of rambling meandering moments -- by a pool, at a parking.  All are drinking away -- except of course Deirdre and at first Omar.   One of its serious themes is to critique the whole idea of literary biography, the way people go about it and call reading sources research.   We find a literary biography is an autobiography in disguise; the MIJ team seem to be on the side of authors who want their privacy for good reasons.

Trying out the gondola together, in the backyard, now rotting

Don't miss it.  I love the ironies at the end of which city each person ends up in.  It's not sentimental only a fantasy of fulfilled longings even for the unlikable.  The people in Uruguay end up dependent on Pete.  It's unlikely he could support them on smuggling but we are to remember his bees :) And how they wrote an astute letter to Caroline:

And the movie equates an awful opera (pretentious, still, dull, the audience more interested in their clothes and place than what's in front of them)  with the awful movie (action adventure) on TV we last see Pete and Adam watching. We are not allowed a real glimpse of Omar and Arden's real life together.  So we are left in ambivalence finally.

A party moment in Uruguay, plenty of drink to get through

I wish I had some more evocative shots.

This only hints at the delights of the mise-en-scene

I wonder what Pete Cameron's novel is like.  Could it be like Kazuo Ishiguro's novels, The Remains of the Day and White Countess (also adapted by MIV, the latter with Ralph Fiennes and Natasha Richardson), 

British cover to book



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 14th, 2010 03:32 pm (UTC)
On the novelist
From a friend who taught him at Hamilton:


I'm very excited to know you've seen this film! I've been waiting for years to see it!

Does the fact that you have posted (or will post) still suggest you've seen it on video? Or is it in theatres?

Peter Cameron was my student; he's a graduate of Hamilton, probably the best writer I've ever taught. When I read the novel, I knew immediately it would make a wonderful film. You can imagine how happy I was to discover it was to be filmed by Merchant-Ivory. And then, after the film was complete, its release was delayed for years by litigation. So I'm eager to have an opportunity to see it.

Please let me know where you saw it.

Best wishes,

Jun. 14th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC)
One the novelist and where we saw it
Dear John,

In a nearby movie theater (Cinemart). I didn't know it was older film. It bills itself as an art theater. I hope you saw in my blog how I longed to read the novel and thought to myself it must be like Ishiguro Kazuo's novels.

I hope your thriving in this heat. I also loved Poldark -- no Tom Jones though, nor Phineas Finn (politician who does compromise in the end and is a success) -- unlike Trollope, Graham does not disapprove of his hero's refusals to compromise.

Jun. 15th, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
Favorite Novel
From Cindy Jones:

"Thanks for posting. I wasn't aware of the film but the novel is one of my favorites."
Jun. 15th, 2010 02:55 am (UTC)
Arden and Omar/The Ending
From Thao:

"I enjoyed the movie, and was intrgued to see how easy it was for Omar to be with Arden. There was no hesitation, it seemed. I enjoyed the way it ended. It was just funny and expected somehow."
Jun. 15th, 2010 04:20 am (UTC)
The moral lesson
It's apparent the book by Peter Cameron is much admired -- and probably excellent, perhaps in some ways rather like Ishiguro Kazuo's book (MIJ adapted his Remains of the Day and White Countess).

So I've bought a copy and await it eagerly. And I thought of one of the moral lessons of the film -- one which fits the four people who end up in Uruguay: I think one also has to buck oneself up with finding what makes you happy and being honest with yourself that if you are more intelligent than most and therefore do see the world differently, then you will find to endure you will have to find it in yourself to live with the decision to be happy in your own way.

Trollope has a strong streak of respecting those who march to their own drummer -- because he did, found he had to. In _Ross Poldark_ the novel I'm just now reading, the hero, Ross, also marches to his own drummer and his author, Graham, deeply respects that -- and shows the price Ross pays too.

To some extent for most people are strong conformists; they become uncomfortable around people who obviously live or feel differently than they do. We each have to be happy in our own way. And may not be able to find someone to validate or listen to us. It takes strength and courage to live this way; it is not cowardice. I like to remember Mr Harding (Trollope's Warden) who had the courage to walk away from what he would have been distressed and unhappy with.

The city of your final destination in this book is not just the result of money and chance -- though it is also decidedly that (and if you are broke and without connections you can bear or can bear you who picks you up if someone does) -- but who you are. In Ross Poldark Demelza is the person who is picked up -- the equivalent of Arden in this film.

To connect this to Jane Austen -- for after all this is supposed part of huge added-to reverie under her sign, Now this theme - just to try to attach it to Austen could be seen as in her books because it's a truth about life. The city of her characters' final destination when it is authentic (their choices not just the result of desire for money or prestige) does come out of their characters and while the majors ones have such a benign mistress chance operates in their way.

Exceptions to this benignity are Mary Crawford (who does not get Edmund and then doesn't marry and ends up living with her sister -- we hope contentedly but we don't know for sure), Maria Bertram, the two Elizas (Williams and Brandon), perhaps Henry Crawford, some would say Marianne Dashwood as the book shows not romance but that she learned to love what was her final destination, did not love it going in.


Edited at 2010-06-15 11:18 am (UTC)
Jun. 23rd, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
Garrett reviews Cameron's City of Your Final Destination
This review suggests that MIJ changed the characters in the original novel considerably:

"The City of Your Final Destination
Daniel Garrett. Review of Contemporary Fiction. Normal: Fall 2002. Vol. 22, Iss. 3; pg. 152, 1 pgs
Abstract (Summary)

"The City of Your Final Destination" by Peter Cameron is reviewed.
» Jump to indexing (document details)
Full Text
(304 words)
Copyright Review of Contemporary Fiction, Inc. Fall 2002

Peter Cameron. The City of Your Final Destination. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002. 312 pp. $24.00.

Peter Cameron's The City of Your Final Destination is a novel about characters whose ideas and impulses are presented so directly they seem to embody forces of nature. Omar, an Iranian graduate student in Kansas, wants to write a biography of a distinguished poet, Jules Gund, for which he's received a grant. The hitch is that he failed to get authorization for the book from the three executors of the poet's estate, Gund's brother, wife, and mistress, all of whom live in Uruguay. After Omar writes them, he receives a letter refusing authorization. Omar's girlfriend Deirdre encourages him to go to Uruguay to convince them to give him authorization; and when he does meet them, he becomes entwined in their needs and schemes and is forced to reconsider his own life choices. Omar is confusion, drift, sweetness, and good intentions; Deirdre is boldness and efficiency. Arden, the poet's mistress, is helpful service and love; the poet's brother Adam is cold intelligence and contempt; the poet's wife Caroline is the fragile wounded whose subsequent desire for order, respect, and safety has made her nearly untouchable. The novel's themes include the prevalence of drift in individual lives and the amoral complicity that develops between people. Days after I finished reading the novel, I heard the author read from it in a Manhattan bookstore, and I was struck again by the articulate intelligence of Cameron's characters, and the intensity of their exchanges, and the resulting wit. When asked about his influences, Cameron said he liked E. M. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread and the work of James Salter and Elizabeth Bishop. One can imagine a day when this is widely considered the company in which Cameron's work belongs. [Daniel Garrett] "
Jun. 28th, 2010 02:48 am (UTC)
From Fran:

Belated thanks for this recommendation. Ellen. I hope it's not one of those films that have already been and gone over here without my noticing it.

It actually ties in with one of the projects that have been occupying me elsewhere lately: novels based either in India or in the Indian diaspora. I had wanted to do Jhabvala's 'Heat and Dust' as well, partly because she is actually a native of Germany and it was for a German speaking discussion group, but the German version has ironically fallen out of print.

It's a common problem I've been facing with postcolonial literature in general: it often either isn't translated at all or never reissued for some reason.

Jhabvala's name did come into play, though, in relation to Anita and Kiran Desai. A lot of the novels we've been discussing have shared themes of fragmented identity, alienation, displacement and loss as in theirs. An interview by Anita Desai mentioned that her own personal sense of these things was nourished in her as a young girl in India by having a German, outsider mother herself and wanting a serious career in writing and not necessarily the early marriage and kids other young Indian women of her age were expected to have that seemed to exclude the first. Then, when she was 18, she met a very encouraging Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a young German mother who afforded an example of someone happily and successfully juggling a mixed marriage, two small kids and a writing career in a foreign environment and felt inspired to persist. They are still friends.

We did manage to read another friend of the Desai family in translation, Salman Rushdie, who himself turns out to have pushed Kiran Desai's 'Inheritance of Loss' quite a bit. Despite, or perhaps because of, the diaspora, quite a sense of solidarity seems to exist in that particular writing community.


Jul. 1st, 2010 10:47 am (UTC)
This is a delayed response to Fran's on my blog/posting on Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala's City of Your Final Destination. I tried the novel, and while it might be that I found it relatively empty (curiously), imitative of a number of typical Booker Prize themes (a sort of _Possession_ lite), still I did find it disappointing. The film is better; I didn't finish the novel, but by the time I got past half-way I saw many improvments by Jhabvala in story and theme.

But not to be discouraging, I'd like to pick up on Fran's other titles. I have a copy of Kira Desai's _Inheritance of Loss_ which I'd love to read, and reading with a group, often prompts to try things I just don't get to without this. I particularly like these books which in a deeper way question the very idea of a group identity to which we belong by themselves showing people cut off from one, and having to build a self out of "these fragments which we shore up against our ruin" (I'm quoting T.S. Eliot from memory).

I especially like these "hyphenated- women authors," Canadian-French books, South-African English, and the post-colonial outlook.

I expect that the reality is I'm several years behind here and many will have read _The Inheritance of Loss_, but I'm open for suggestions for others by Desai and other Anglo-Indian and hyphenated- women authors. We had some three months on a collection of shorts stories by Jhabvala, but never have tried togetehr Kamal Markandaya who is often discussed with Jhabvala.

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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