The Immigrant (James Gray, 2013)
If you’re enjoying life just a bit too much at the moment, and you want a film that leaves you feeling flat and depressed, LOOK NO FURTHER! For here is a film about an illegal immigrant who gets forced into prostitution. It’s visually drab and dark, the supporting characters are wankers, and the whole situation seems hopeless.In The Immigrant, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) flee 1920s Poland for a better life in America. On arriving, a sick Magda is taken away to be quarantined, whilst Ewa (pronounced ‘Eva’) has her application rejected. A seemingly decent man, Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) helps her travel to Manhattan, where she is forced into prostitution as a means of acquiring the money to get her sister back. Bruno’s estranged cousin, and magician, Orlando (Jeremy Renner) turns up about half-way through, and offers Ewa hope for a better life.
New York is usually such a wonderful sight to behold, but not so much here. The sets and the cinematography captured the dark and dinghy vibe well. Cinematographer Darius Khondji deliberately destroyed the film negative to create an older look, and it worked, though I’m not sure if I’m a fan. Almost all scenes are inside or take place at night, and the brief glimpses we get of sunlight are a welcome relief. I saw this film during a lovely sunny day in Melbourne, and I was so happy to get out of that cinema when the credits rolled. It was actually a little painful, and this is coming from someone who loves being indoors.
The acting was of extremely high standard, with Marion Cotillard, goddess, front and centre. Unfortunately her character was irritatingly weak and wimpering, so that she wasn’t exactly a joy to watch. If you can get past that (I struggled) you should be able to appreciate a fine performance. Apparently her Polish language and accent is quite good too (don’t fret if you’re anti-subtitles – they are kept to a minimum). Joaquin Phoenix is always mesmerising, and puts in a layered performance here as the obsessive Bruno. Jeremy Renner keeps getting better and better. He’s so much more than a crap superhero.
I usually love a good old-fashioned love triangle, but here it was more a case of “Who is less of a dick?” as both men were profoundly flawed. Though both men care for her, any true feelings on her part are not reciprocated. She didn’t love either of them (and I can’t blame her) but merely needed to figure out who would be a better help to her. Don’t go expecting any big romance. Just wankers pining for it. Layered wankers!
The Immigrant travels along slowly, and I was really itching to get back into that sunlight. It picks up speed towards the end, but for me it was too little, too late. The whole thing is one big depressive hotpot and I couldn’t help but keep wondering “Even if she does get her sister back, then what?” They BOTH become prostitutes? I’m generally not opposed to depressing subject matter, and The Immigrant does have its moments, but woe can be so much more beautiful than this.