REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK
PLACE: Paradise Electric, Cinema 2
PIC: The Immigrant
PEEPS: Say half a dozen present, including my old mate and I, seeking entertainment before lunch. Retirement is really hard sometimes, so packages like the movie and light lunch thing that were advertised look pretty good.
The pretty screen saver, the usual ads for businesses and apartment sales in Acton. The #$%^ing meerkat. A slightly interesting ad for what turned out to be some kind of pop-up fashion retail thing at the airport. A forthcoming Italian film festival that appears to feature a great deal of osculation. Previews for Gone Girl (old mate has read the book, but was kind enough not to tell me what happened) and a Spanish thing translated as Living is Easy with Eyes Closed that has apparently won heaps of awards – a middle-aged schoolteacher in the 1960s wants to meet John Lennon while he is in Spain making a film. It’s not the biggest plot that could be imagined, but seems an attractive road movie with ill-matched companions. Not that we’ve ever seen anything like that before.
The Immigrant is set in the early 1920s, a time when the USA was keen enough to take anyone who arrived at Ellis Island, unless there was a good reason not to do so. Presumably, they hadn’t worked out a Nauru/Manus/Cambodia solution or maybe they were confident enough in the existing society to be less worried about a few thousand, or a few million, extras*. Ewa is young, Polish and beautiful (she’s played by the luminous Marion Cotillard, which means the beautiful bit is given) who arrives in New York with a question mark on her character and a sister who has TB and must go into treatment. She’s saved from being deported by corruption facilitated by Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), a vaudevillian and pimp who has plans for her that go outside the supposed job description of “seamstress”**. He is infatuated with Ewa*** and assists her to forward some of her income for Magda’s medical treatment. With no support from family already in America (the nasty Uncle Wojtek and timid Aunt Edyta), Ewa has few choices. It gets a little more complicated with the arrival of Bruno’s cousin Emil (Jeremy Renner, channelling Bill Murray thirty years ago) who is also taken by Ewa**** and the plot lurches on to one of the many possible conclusions.
The Immigrant is easy on the eye*****, filmed mostly indoors, in wintry light and at the less-favoured times of the day. The New York depicted is a place which has many of the bones of the place that exists now, but the attitudes and policies are those of a century ago. Ellis Island is particularly well used as a location. Alcohol Prohibition is mentioned, and the lewd vaudeville show is only a little more suggestive than would be seen on many streets in summer.
The film achieves the ambition of depicting a segment of society at a time of change. The plot is brave enough that the audience needs to adjust its expectations of what will happen on a few occasions; some may see it as lacking shape, but others may recognise the twists and choices that happen in life. Cotillard does more with a role that could have been a victim than the audience or the producers could expect. Phoenix and Renner provide reliable support, but are tested by roles that require a measure of ambiguity.
A solid three flat whites. Chasers of a liquor that was banned at the time.
* – by the way, anyone wondered what would happen if, say, an earthquake happened on the US west coast and their government asked Australia to take quite a lot of displaced people? We would, of course, send them all to Nauru. OK, I’ll stop editorialising.
** – I don’t know, maybe they had class 457 visas for seamstresses, but not for some personal services occupations.
*** – I think I mentioned that she’s played by Marion Cotillard.
**** – Yes, I did mention Marion Cotillard.
***** – Not just Marion Cotillard, who has now made it into three successive footnotes.