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Ivory Tower

Unlike the perfectly appointed sets that are synonymous with Merchant-Ivory films, James Ivory's 57th Street office is a hodgepodge of random keepsakes...

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Unlike the perfectly appointed sets that are synonymous with Merchant-Ivory films, James Ivory's 57th Street office is a hodgepodge of random keepsakes — an oversize "Gone With the Wind" painting, a handsome trunk, a movie poster from "Somebody Up There Likes Me" signed by Paul Newman and a framed sketch of a tree that reads "Merchant Ivory, We Are Proud of Our Roots." It's the kind of collection that builds up after 51 years in the business.

And it's a career that continues even three years after the death of Ivory's longtime partner and collaborator Ismail Merchant. In May, Merchant-Ivory released "Before the Rains," and this fall, Ivory will release his latest directorial project, "The City of Your Final Destination," starring Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Soft-spoken and casually dressed, the filmmaker looks more a friendly-uncle-of-a-certain-age than an Oscar-nominated director. He primarily travels for work; the closest he comes to vacation is catching up with old friends — the type to criticize specific film scenes 10 years after the fact — in his native Oregon. But while Ivory will take an earful from a pal, however belatedly, he is less inclined to keep up with the critics. "You can't," he says, "because you'd be going around in circles, as they are."

He is equally relaxed with what the audience takes away from his imagery. "Everybody gets different things from films. Sometimes the most important thing they don't get at all. But that doesn't matter because they get other things."

"The City of Your Final Destination," based on the Peter Cameron novel of the same name, revisits a theme familiar from other Merchant-Ivory works including "A Room With a View," "Maurice" and "The Bostonians." Shot in Argentina, the film centers on a young American who is trying to win over the heirs of a famous South American novelist so he can write an authorized biography. But an affair with the deceased's mistress derails his plan.

"The big theme of it is not to live a life that you don't want to live, if you can help it. That's very much in the back of a lot of our films," Ivory says. "A lot of people I think fall into that pattern. Sometimes they need something kind of explosive to get them out of it."
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