Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Immigrant (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Immigrant

With a story that is unapologetically cold, grim and more understated than the work of Albert Camus, James Gray (Two Lovers) and his  epic "The Immigrant" holds a charge through the vibration of its actors, specifically Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix.

Cotillard stars as Ewa, a young Polish girl who arrives at Ellis Island in 1920s New York. With her tubercular sister in tow, (Angela Sarafyan) Ewa has all the best of hopes for starting anew. But just when it appears that the pair is making headway, Ewa's sister is yanked from the line and the couple are in jeopardy of deportation.

Enter Bruno Weiss (Phoenix) who bribes the administration and becomes Ewa's guardian of sorts. Ewa honestly intends to pull her weight, but while looking around in Bruno's theater drawer, the temptation to steal a bill or two, proves irresistible.

Soon it becomes clear that Weiss is far from a reputable citizen but is in fact a two-bit pimp, who works a prostitution ring under the guise of a vaudeville show.

Worse, Bruno is a violent alcoholic.

During one interlude, Ewa meets Orlando (Jeremy Renner) Bruno's cousin, a small time magician. Orlando develops feelings for Ewa, and Bruno also develops an obsession.

The melodrama quickly runs  as thick as blackstrap molasses.
Not one character is truly likable or dynamic, but the self destructive tensions will keep you going.

The classic cinematography by Darius Khondji of "Midnight in Paris" fame is a conceptual return to the films of Sergio Leone and Francis Ford Coppola with panoramic closeups that are religious in intensity. Every frame is muted as if through sepia, coffee, cigar ash and shadowy motes. There are scenes of overtired harlequins, harlots and curlicued cupids weary with absinthe and mascara. The anemic pinks and purples shown recall the decadent enervation of an era struggling to gain steam, reminiscent of "Cabaret". Visually, the film is masterful, all encompassing of the  period.

It is only Ewa's gullibility that seems far fetched and full of teary pathos of the handwringing variety. Every role in the film is infused with a lethargic spirit and drive.

Bruno himself becomes a twisted grotesque mask, an emotional twin to Paul Dano's role in "Prisoners". At one point, Bruno's face turns black with self hating bitterness.

While the daring in a dark approach to a period piece is well taken, there is no one to root for.

With its flat feeling of lugubriousness, The Immigrant" is an offbeat film that masquerades as a mainstream period drama: a kind of "Midnight Express" for fans of  "Once Upon a Time in America". While it is sure to divide fans of Sergio Leone, the painstaking richness in its grim cause and effect of an America gone syrupy in gloom rather than galore, is nearly poetic.

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