Saturday, October 5, 2013
The Immigrant (2013 New York Film Festival 2013
The Immigrant is one the rare films that doesn't end until the final fade out. What I mean by this is that until you get to the marvelous final closing shot the story is still spinning out. I say this because I don't want you to think you know what the film is about until the very end. I'm also saying this because you need to get all the way through this film to experience it's full effect.
The film is the story of Ewa, played by the marvelous Marion Cotillard. She has come to America in 1921 to make a new life for herself and her sister, who unfortunately is sick. Ewa's sister is taken to the hospital at Ellis Island to recuperate or be returned to Poland if she doesn't. Meanwhile Ewa is labeled as woman of loose morals thanks to a ship board incident and is redirected to be immediantly sent back. While waiting on line to go back, she catches the eye of Bruno, played by Joaquim Phoenix, a burlesque manager/pimp with connections to the people in the right places.Bruno gets her out but there is a price to be paid. Forced to do things she doesn't want to in order to get the money to buy her sisters freedom, her fortunes seem to decline. However hope arises in the form Orlando, a magician played by Jeremy Renner. However Bruno and Orlando don't get along and soon the down hill slide becomes bumpy...
I didn't want to see this film at all. I didn't want down beat and depressing which is how the film seemed based on the descriptions. Frankly the only reason I went was that the other two films being screened for the press the same day looked to be full so I went early to see this to assure myself a seat for those films. Honestly I'm glad I went since this is one of the best films I've seen at the festival.
Where to begin?
Perhaps by saying yes the film is pure melodrama. Director James Gray said the film comes from a mixture of a Puccini opera and the stories his grand parents told him about coming to the US. He made the film in part to counter the typical coming to America was great stories that most people do. Coming to America was hard and sometimes you had to do things you would be ashamed of just to get by. Ewa's tale is full of things that she is ashamed of. Its telling is pure epic or opera.
Gray scores points in any number of places, chief amongst them is that there is a complexity to every character. No one is wholly good. No one wholly bad. Its the complexity which keeps the melodrama from falling over into parody. Bruno, Ewa's manager/savior/pimp is the sort of character you can't get a bead on. Does he love her? Does he hate her? Is she just fodder? You never are sure, nor is he ever sure why he's doing what he is doing. Its a wonderful human way of being. Even Ewa has levels with in her as we see her steal money and turn nasty when needed.
The performances are amazing with Jeremy Renner being a complete surprise with his ability to disappear into his role. Honestly I couldn't believe it was him. Equally lost in her role is Cotillard as Ewa who seems to be a face we've never seen before despite having won an Oscar. Only Joaquim Phoenix seems out of place. Its not that his performance is bad, its not, rather it's that his force of personality steals the spotlight at every turn, which is not good in what is otherwise an ensemble film.
For much of the running time I was being dragged along looking at the pretty pictures and enjoying what I thought was a non-think melodrama. And then the end came and I realized that this was a much more complex film than I ever imagined. I won't say what the film is really about however I will tell you to take note of the religious facets of the tale for yourself.
This is a film that is going improve with age, consideration and repeat viewings. Its a film of seemingly simplicity that hides a complexity that few modern American films ever attempt never mind reach.
This is a gem and one of the best films I've seen at the New York Film Festival.