James Ivory, whose long collaboration with producer Ismail Merchant resulted in a kind of gilded oeuvre of ornate dramas ("A Room With a View," "Howards End"), returns with his first film since Merchant's death in 2005.
And it's with a story dominated by a missing man: Jules Gund, the late Uruguayan author of a single novel, the obsession of fledgling Kansas academic Omar Razaghi (Omar Metwally). Rebuffed in a letter from Gund's survivors, but urged on by his domineering girlfriend, Deirdre (hilarious Alexandra Maria Lara), Omar travels to Uruguay, hoping to change their collective mind. What he finds is a clan so baroque they might have sprung from the brow of a conjoined George S. Kaufman-Tennessee Williams.
They spring, in actuality, from the novel by Peter Cameron, which has been adapted by Merchant Ivory's ever-constant Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. As customary, the story is less about time and place than the nuanced relationships between unlikely people: Gund's widow, Caroline (Laura Linney); mistress, Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins), all of whom live together in Gund's old house, nursing his ghost.
While the veteran actors do some of their best work ever - Linney and Hopkins are scary good - Metwally is a bit hard to take, because of Omar's implausibly wide-eyed naiveté. Ultimately, though, "City" is a beautifully directed Ivory film, over which Merchant might have smiled.