The Immigrant Screen 31 articles

The Immigrant


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  • The film is alienatingly solemn and emotionally muddled, its central relationship rarely coming across as either convincing or sincere. The ethical quandaries faced by Cotillard lack any kind of satisfying ambiguity, as her unflagging devotion to her sister means that we never once believe that she might swerve from her stolid convictions.

  • Gray’s desire to tell this story as carefully as possibly, leaning on a quiet classical approach and avoiding overplaying the claustrophobia and grubbiness of Ewa’s situation, is admirable enough. But the result is airless and equivocal. Gray is too reliant on plot turns that are hard to believe, and on observing Cotillard’s face and hoping her eyes and expressions will tell the story.

  • Cinematographer Darius Khondji makes the film's early-20th-century New York City look both claustrophically dark and gloomily gorgeous, finding richness in its chocolate-y browns and blacks and golden gaslight, and Cotillard suffers beautifully in it. But the period details so faithfully recreated by the production designers, and the encounters set up by Gray and his late co-writer, Richard Menello, sometimes feel as over-engineered as Ewa's speech about forgiveness.

  • Occasional bursts of anger notwithstanding, Phoenix is perhaps the most compassionate, even courtly scoundrel imaginable, and Cotillard, despite her pragmatic acceptance of his services, is having none of his ostensible affection. Much less rewarding is a subplot involving Phoenix’s antagonistic relationship with his cousin (Jeremy Renner), a low-rent magician who falls for Cotillard and offers to take her away from all this...

  • Pity poor Jeremy Renner, who set out to work with a True American Auteur (tm) only to get stuck playing a blandly roguish plot contrivance. Actually, none of the three leads fare very well here, Cotillard's titular immigrant a matter of movie-star glamour, a smidgen of Catholic guilt and boringly steadfast devotion to a saintly sister, Phoenix's caught in a no-man's-land between violent pimp and tortured romantic...

  • “The Immigrant” is Gray’s most ambitious feature... Gray’s attention to detail is somewhat undercut by some cloddish performances (mainly Joaquin Phoenix) and “The Immigrant” does turn fatally Punch and Judy midway through. Still, it’s not every director who aspires to be Frank Borzage (with Cotillard as his Janet Gaynor) and in any case the movie deserves to be seen on screen as Gray intended before distributor Harvey Weinstein cuts out its heart.

  • If we can accept it on its own terms, "The Immigrant" has many moments of exceptional power and rare delicacy, none more potent than the final shot, which achieves a haunting visual balance between the characters of Ewa and Bruno that cannot be achieved for them in their interactions with each other but can be achieved through the talent and skill of the man who is behind the camera guiding and shaping and watching them.

  • The Immigrant is often dazzling in its sweep and depth, able to articulate peeling, ramshackle 1920s interiors of the newly-arrived with the still fresh heroism of architectural modernism. Even the sterile symmetry of government hallways bears a Kafkaesque gleam, impressive after a fashion. At the same time, these visual motifs frequently feel brittle and textualized in a manner that I haven't encountered before with Gray's cinema.

  • From its almost unrelenting focus on Cotillard's haunted face, ever-registering Ewa's progression to a newer understanding of the existential complexities of the world into which she's been thrust, to its literally prismatic final shot, an epiphanous collage of Ewa and Bruno's travels to an ostensibly hopeful tomorrow, the film is Gray's Voyage to Italy.

  • For me, [The Immigrant is] yet more evidence that Gray is a director who can tease rich, subtle colors out of melodrama. He's unafraid of strong emotion; he doesn't care about looking cool. And the movie he's made, a stylized take on the experience of a Polish immigrant newly arrived in New York in the early 1920s, feels classical, but it also breathes.

  • The shape and emotional contours of Gray’s film become clearer the more we come to care about the people in it. Perhaps the most gratifying surprise of the film is that it doesn’t purport to be about the immigrant experience, but about the experience of one woman who happens to be an immigrant. As a ravishingly bisected final shot—half mirror, half window, looking back and forward—illustrates, hers was just one story among many, now finished, but continuing on.

  • The resulting film is altogether extraordinary: a silent tragedy with words, at once boldly breaking form while reflecting all Gray’s passions and curiosities.

  • The Immigrant is an investigation into Gray's own family history, his own films and the obsessions therein. In this way, it's his most personal work to date, and I expect will be seen as a key turning point in his oeuvre when we're looking back from the future. All of his films interact in meaningful ways but The Immigrant expands and complicates the intricacies that bind them.

  • This is a story—and period "history"—with no central stage, no spotlight. It's a muted drama seen from a dark corner. The melodrama is in Cotillard's moral outrage, her Catholic guilt and sacrifice of herself for her sister. Gray's is a "gesture" cinema, in the sense that what people do in the world defines themselves as people. Renner and Phoenix throughout are totally a mystery in the drama...until they dosomething, and suddenly the film is lightning-electric.

  • For all its internal despair, The Immigrant never loses a sense of hope and resiliency. You should look no further than the film’s brilliant final shot of mirrors and windows working in harmony to see an image of a pair of lost souls finally diverging for the better.

  • Initial response to “The Immigrant” seems mixed here, but I think it’s a magnificent drama with an immense emotional payoff, combining old-fashioned Hollywood storytelling and an auteurist, European-style sense of mystery.

  • It's Gray's work with his actors and his deft balance between modest narrative striations and larger melodrama that lends The Immigrant its power. This is essentially another relationship, even familial, drama for the director, except painted across an epic backdrop, the economic adversity and rumblings of the impeding Depression sent rippling between the film's otherwise interpersonal contours.

  • ...The film feels personal and familial – and indeed was based partly on the stories Gray had heard from his grandparents. As a consummate period melodrama, The Immigrant is bound to last – and confirms that Gray is one of America’s most exciting and uncompromising directors.

  • James Gray’s The Immigrant was the most unequivocally sublime experience of this year’s festival... The film’s strongest trump card, however, is Gray’s mastery of mise en scène, his assured control over shot composition, framing and camera placement, and the languid ease with which he transitions from one scene to the next. This talent places Gray firmly in the tradition of Hollywood classicism, whose aesthetic qualities were only given adequate treatment by French critics in the 1950s.

  • Few contemporary filmmakers have James Gray’s ability or ambition to match exquisite craft with emotionally complex storytelling. At first blush a departure from the director’s four previous features (all set in modern times), this bleeding-heart historical melodrama is more like the troubled soil from which the other films have sprung—a story of sacrifice to foster, define, and haunt future generations.

  • The Immigrant is a bleak story, and Gray favors a narrative classicism that seems out of vogue—at least as far as current American cinema goes—in its slow-build patience and delicacy. You may often find yourself second-guessing the film, questioning how—and if—it will all come together. But by the time of the intense and impassioned climax, a storm of emotion is ensured: a great movie rising before you like a delusion, like a dream.

  • ...The Immigrant is the rare period piece that never seems embalmed. The film’s vitality emerges from its intimate observations—like Ewa’s first experience eating a banana—many of which were informed by the memories of the director’s own grandparents, Russian émigrés who arrived at Ellis Island in 1923. But the beating heart of the movie is Cotillard, whose saucer eyes recall those of imperiled silent-screen legends like Lillian Gish.

  • What makes The Immigrant a great film is the way in which Gray uses actors and his mastery of the unspoken to create a tremendously lived-in, felt-through world. Every space—public or private, interior or exterior—feels authentic, historically and emotionally... In terms of texture, The Immigrant is a great film; emotionally, it’s a masterpiece.

  • [Ewa's] defining moment comes when she revisits her aunt and asks a penitent “Is it a sin to try to survive?” Then she modifies the question, asking “Is it a sin to _want_ to survive after doing so many bad things?” The former is self-martyrdom, the latter a defiant refusal of same... It hardly comes as a surprise that this is the director’s best film yet. Surely, that places it among the upper-echelon of contemporary American film.

  • “The Immigrant,” for all its meticulous detail and dramatic nuance, turns naturalism inside out. Gray proves—as he has always proved—that what matters isn’t frames and cuts, story lines and character traits, but the melodies and harmonies, the moods and tones that arise from them, and that, in turn, seem to deflect, distort, shudder, and shatter them.

  • All three [main] characters undergo profound transformations; as they evolve, so too does the film, moving from sweeping social drama to a portrait of spiritual epiphany. Beautifully shot (by Darius Khondji), designed, and performed, this may well be Gray’s masterpiece.

  • The Immigrant is a simple story, told clearly and directly, building to an emotional climax of dumbfounding, immobilizing power, which hinges on two confessions, one from Ewa, the other from Bruno. (“If you could lick my heart, you'd taste nothing but poison,” says Bruno, his words echoing a line from one of the survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah.)

  • If everything is movement, if everything is formal, so Gray’s camera is no longer a camera-stylo and is now a camera-microscope or a camera-bucksaw, because it whittles and analyses frontally the situations and emotions. Henceforth, if we are seeing a film about someone who is going farther and is crying to reach her destiny to the will of destiny, what is left to us is being complacent to the sanctity of the woman who walks.

  • A melodrama as pure as The Immigrant is by its very nature a throwback... The film is built around (and grants new psychological complexity to) a "villain, victim, hero" dynamic that was old when D.W. Griffith was young, and its plotting is elemental, hingeing as it does on two sustained acts of sacrifice. It bridges a gap of nearly a century, back to when stories like this regularly played in theaters, back to the time when its events are set.

  • There is the potential for a dangerous religious obscurantism here that favors an ethereal salvation over the material realities of their situation. But Gray’s sentimental melodrama is foremost a humanist film that privileges the individual experience—their feelings and desires—over favoring the system itself, which often runs the risk of depicting the characters as the helpless victims of a tragic history.

  • While Bruno does hold great sway over Ewa’s story, the film’s focus is her struggle to bear the burden of achieving the American dream. Her story, then, fills a historically overlooked female perspective on labour in film, one where work doesn’t take the form of the more cinematically celebrated narratives of macho American work life, like the mafia (The Godfather and The Godfather II) or crime rings (Gangs of New York). It’s the one that no one wants to talk about: sex.

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