Monday, 6 June 2016


“America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts.” - James Madison

We watched an old-fashioned movie at the weekend. I say “old-fashioned” as that is the characterisation we gave it when discussing it afterwards. It was one that was based on a tried and true plot, no surprises or twists in the scenario, a story that could have been true. The acting, direction and cinematography were good and the music suited to the subject matter. No great need for effects, no pyrotechnics no CGI. So, an “old-fashioned” movie…

It was James Gray’s 2013 movie “The Immigrant”, starring  Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Dagmara Dominczyk, Jicky Schnee and Elena Solovey. The scenario was co-written by the director and Richard Menello, while the music was by Christopher Spelman and cinematography by Darius Khondji. We liked the movie, and it kept our interest up for the 120 minutes that it ran. However, if you are looking for a fast-paced movie with lots of plots twists and action, this is not for you. While not perhaps a typical “chick flick”, one may classify it as a drama with minimal romance.

The film is set in New York, 1921. Ewa Cybulska (Cotillard) and her sister Magda sail to New York from their native Poland, in search of a new homeland and the American dream. As soon as they arrive at Ellis Island, doctors discover that Magda has tuberculosis, and the two women are separated, Magda quarantined at Ellis Island. Ewa is to be deported as her Uncle and Aunt have not shown up to meet her. Alone, with nowhere to turn and desperate to reunite with Magda, Ewa falls prey to Bruno (Phoenix), a charming but wicked man who takes her in and forces her into prostitution. Ewa wishes to collect money so that Magda is released to join her on Manhattan. One day, Ewa encounters Bruno’s cousin, the debonair magician Orlando (Renner). Ewa is attracted to him and she hopes that he becomes her chance to escape the nightmare in which she finds herself. However, not all goes well…

The film had excellent sets, costumes and the atmosphere of 1920s New York was captured well. Although often mean, grimy, gritty and seamy, the scenes as they unfold exude a certain nostalgia and there is a bittersweet taste in one’s mouth as the film progresses. The patina of age blunts the “bad things” that are going on and even with the “wicked” characters one finds certain redeeming features as the writer/director does not make any judgments and presents things as they are, giving us neither black nor white, but a huge range of grays in between.

Cotillard looks beautiful and does more acting with her face and eyes than she does delivering her (relatively) few lines, many of which are delivered in Polish. Phoenix likewise does a brilliant job of bringing the complexity of Bruno’s character to the fore. His subtle transformation is played well and his delivery is restrained and thus utterly believable. Renner plays his role well enough but his role is less meaty, although essential to the story. The supporting actors play well and their performance is suitably low-key.

Overall, we enjoyed this movie and recommend it for viewing by mature adults who have an attention span longer than that of a goldfish, and can enjoy good, slow story-telling.

1 comment:

  1. It must be difficult to understand the joys and pains of immigration, unless people have been through the experience themselves. The film has to encourage insights in the audience so that people don't respond with racist criticism eg "bloody migrants - they should be grateful we took them in at all". Or "why do they speak Wog in our streets?"

    Australians were also not very kind to migrants, even though 25% of our population were born overseas!