There was once a time when the name Merchant/Ivory stood for something. It meant a certain kind of product that was unmistakably Merchant/Ivory. A classical cinema of sorts - many times based on 19th and early 20th century novels - that played out in a grand classical opulence. Though oft-maligned for their old-world dreariness (modern audiences may be thrown off by the slow and steady style of these films) these period pieces, which include such award-heavy works as A Room with a View, The Bostonians and Howard's End, set a standard for this kind of filmmaking style. So much so was this certain style of filmmaking that the term Merchant/Ivory-esque was often used to describe movies that found themselves in a similar vein. This producing/directing team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory was almost a sub-industry of their very own. That is, until Merchant, the more dynamic of the two, passed away a few years ago.
Since then, perhaps the magic is gone. Granted, Merchant/Ivory, though well-made quality filmmaking indeed, has never been known for dynamic filmmaking (more a classical upper crust kind of style - at least on the surface), but somehow the power and prestige of this sub-industry of sorts, seems to be lacking in James Ivory's latest work, The City of Your Final Destination. Yet, with this new work, there seems to be a much more passionate feel that was always sorely lacking from the team's hey day of the 80's and early 90's. There was always a sexualized undercurrent flowing through their films (a sort of titillating innuendo), but here, with Ivory on his own, this innuendo has surfaced and, though it does not pervade the characters in the usual way, works its way into the meat of the film. Perhaps, instead of the magic being gone (what actual magic there was in such staid films) the magic has just became something else.
Of course much of this passion (and distrust of passion) I speak of is shown through not only the characters in the film - all played beautifully by their respective actors - but in the gorgeously subtle cinematography that makes the film a thing of natural beauty to behold. Filled with succulent earth tones that nearly engulf the story itself. Ivory's film takes the already well-known (if not a bit well-worn) Merchant/Ivory style and transcends it into a pulsating cascade of thrusting emotion. Of course, when one has the talents of Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg and the Merchant/Ivory mainstay of Anthony Hopkins, how can one not transcend into a pulsating cascade of thrusting emotion? I suppose in the end, the magic, though transformed, is still there after all. [07/22/10]