Thursday, June 14, 2018

The City of Your Final Destination

James Ivory’s The City is Our Final Destination (2009) is a drama that recounts the adventures of Omar, a PhD student in Literature who travels to Uruguay to convince the family of the deceased novelist, Jules Gund, to grant him permission to write his biography. Ocho Rios is a huge farmhouse owned by the Gund family and the place where Omar will reconstruct his own identity while unveiling the history and the secrets of his favourite author’s family. Based on the novel with the same name by the American writer Peter Cameron, Ivory takes us to a place that evinces a dichotomous reality about the Latin America of the past, and the Latin America of the present, both envisioning a better future. This magical destination is the meeting place for those trying to flee from their sad unwanted realities, but it is also a place some want to escape from. This is a movie about who we are, who we pretend to be, and who we wish to become.

Wanting to please his girlfriend, Omar travels to Uruguay seeking the authorization to write Jules Gund's biography. In Uruguay (though the film is shot in Argentina), Omar arrives at the Ocho Rios ranch which had been the writer's home, and also the spectacular setting for many of his works. The house is large, elegant, and full of old artifacts that reflect its origin, and the origin of what was once a rich European migrant family getting to enjoy the wonders of the New Continent in Uruguay. Although Omar finds a dream place according to Gund's books, he will soon discover that his knowledge about the author is nothing compared to the complexity brought by the family and the secret behind his suicide (which took place in the same house).

Ivory leads us to understand the many reasons why the characters in the film have come to Uruguay, which is also part of the history of the region and the reason for filming there. Thus we are presented with images from the beginning of the twentieth century before and after the Second World War. Boatloads of rich Europeans arrived in South America to rebuild lives that the political and economic crises of their countries had destroyed. “They lived in the past, their past, they did not want to know anything about the present, any present, anywhere. South America is good for that if you reach far enough” Adam (Jules’s older brother) comments while showing Omar pictures of his parents on their way to Uruguay.

Latin America becomes a place to reinvent yourself. As the movie's title says, it is the city of final destination. Throughout the twentieth century, people travelled to Latin America because of their nostalgia for the old good days in Europe. Adam, for example, so in Latin America an opportunity to openly experience his homosexuality with his partner. Arden (Jules’ mistress) had arrived in Latin America as a gypsy looking for an adventure. Omar found in Uruguay his real self, and his real romantic love. Romance itself is a characteristic of Latin America and its people. “People here like imagining men and women together,” says Arden about the comments people make about here and Omar.

But on the other hand, there are those that want an escape from the present offered by Latin America, a present that seems to be stuck in the past, with no technology, no places of entertainment other than talking about the lives of the neighbours. For those people, adventure, romance, and renouncing to what modernity has to offer could be something beautiful, but wild and extremely boring. In the movie, those who have their feet on earth (and the necessary amount of money) will rather live in a city like New York like Caroline (Jules’ widow) and Deirdre (Omar’s girlfriend) decide by the end of the movie.

The versatility provided by a place like Latin America is the ideal scenario for the plot represented by Ivory: it is beauty, it is wilderness, it is love, it is past, it is present, and it offers a future at the same time. Perhaps, in literature, it is easier to create a fantastic, romantic place. But as Ivory comments, when they read the novel, they undoubtedly knew that it should be filmed in Uruguay or some similar place like Argentina, that it could not be faked in a studio. What Latin America provides to the process of filmmaking was in this case irreplaceable. In the plot (as in the filmmaking process) Latin America is a beautiful place, but it is stuck in the past, and places like New York or European cities are the symbol of modernity, culturally and technologically.

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