Tuesday, November 18, 2014
The Immigrant 
RogerEbert.com (D. Callahan) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review
The Immigrant  (directed and screenplay cowritten by James Gray along with Ric Menello) is a visually striking, critically acclaimed / award winning "New York in the 1920s" immigrant "period piece" / "Melodrama" [TM] that made the festival rounds last year (including the 2013 Chicago International Film Festival). Since it's main protagonist was a recently arrived 20-something Polish immigrant woman named Ewa Cybulska (played magnificently throughout by Marion Cotillard), the film played again recently at the 2014 Polish Film Festival in America held here in Chicago.
The film begins with Ewa and her sister Magda (played by Angela Sarafyan), tired but smiling, just having arrived on Americn shores, standing in the "inspection line" at Ellis Island. Very quickly it goes bad. Magda, looking more tired and sweaty than Ewa, coughs a few times. Unfortunately, that's _exactly_ what the inspectors are looking for. So she is quite rapidly removed from the line to be quarantined in case she has tuberculosis (which, let's face it, she probably has ...).
That leaves Ewa, and it quickly goes downhill for her as well. Above all, with Magda having been taken away, she's arriving now to the States "unaccompanied" (with nobody). She has an address of an uncle and aunt in New York. But the custom's official, without looking particularly hard at the paper with their address, declares the address invalid. How would he know that so quickly? Perhaps he was jaded (anybody could come with simply a paper saying anything), perhaps he didn't care, perhaps he didn't particularly like immigrants (after all, they were coming from some "new/strange part of Europe again," and American residents have never particularly liked "newcomers" anyway), perhaps, he even could have been bribed to give Ewa, a young woman arriving INCREASINGLY DESPERATE and ALONE, a hard time. In any case, he tells her "The United States does not accept 'unaccompanied women' to our shores." He further questions her moral character based on some random "report" of something that (could have) happened on the ship on which she and her sister were arriving. So he summarily puts her into a line AWAITING DEPORTATION.
While waiting in this line ... IT JUST HAPPENS that a "nice man" (or perhaps/almost certainly not a particularly "nice man") named Bruno Weiss (played again remarkably well in superbly "complex" / "conflicted" fashion by Joaquin Phoenix) comes by the line of young women awaiting deportation and ... since Ewa is young, fairly attractive and actually speaks some English ... "helps her." In any case, he gets her "off the island." How? Guess ...
Now obviously this "nice" or "not particularly nice" or frankly "quite evil" if perhaps "conflicted about it" man named Bruno ... has an agenda. And perhaps not particularly surprisingly, Ewa is soon groomed into prostituting herself to both "pay for his care (of her)" and with the vague hope that HE might actually help her sister (afflicted with tuberculosis ... or not...) eventually get off of Ellis Island as well.
Sigh ... so what does Ewa do? Well the rest of the story, more-or-less obviously quite melodramatic, but certainly WELL PLAYED, plays out. Yes, she does find herself in a kind of sexual slavery (Seriously though playing out in the early 1920s, this film touches on SO MANY ISSUES of today). But she is not without her inner resources -- both her pride AND HER FAITH -- and she's soon not without friends, including a 1920s era "Magician" (played again WONDERFULLY, attuned to the time of the story, by Jeremy Renner) who to varying degrees are able to "kinda help."
Does she find her way out of this horrible mess? Well, find the film when it eventually comes out on DVD to find out ;-). Honestly, this is a very well made film that though quite melodramatic has some very well drawn, and often quite nuanced characters (including the troubled, conflicted, Bruno). In any case, the film reminds us that EVERYBODY has a story.
So good job folks, good job!
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