misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala's The City of Your Final Destination: which is your Moscow?

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Moscow is to Olga -except of course the irony is the one who repeats this is Caroline, last seen burning her husband's unpublished manuscript: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

Tags: 20th century, adaptations, costume drama, female archetypes, film adaptation, literary biography, women's art

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