Starring-Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix
Scott’s Review #293
Reviewed December 5, 2015
The Immigrant is a lovely, classic, old-style Hollywood film set in early 1920’s New York City.
The film is a classic tale of a poor Polish immigrant who travels to America in hopes of a better life, only to be met with hardship, manipulation, and conflict. However, The Immigrant is not a downer. Rather, a powerful and intriguing story of life and the clichéd pursuit of happiness with a compelling love story mixed in.
Nominated for Best Actress for Two Days, One Night, eligible the same year as The Immigrant, this is a good example of the Academy got it wrong as Marion Cotillard really should have been nominated for this performance instead of the former.
The actress was, however, recognized with an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actress for this role. A true talent, she gives a wonderful performance.
Little is known about Ewa’s (Cotillard) life before she arrives on Ellis Island with her sister Magda in tow. We meet them as they disembark a ship and wait on line on the immigration line, weary from their escape from war-torn Poland.
They have escaped their native country in hopes of a better life in the United States. Unfortunately, Magda is ill and cannot hide a cough and is sent to the infirmary most likely before being sent back to Poland. Ewa desperately needs money and is told that her Aunt and Uncle have not shown up to collect her as she had originally thought. Ewa is now on her own and desperate in a land where she knows not a soul.
As the plot unfolds, Ewa encounters two men who enter her life- Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) and Emil (Jeremy Renner)- brothers with a rivalry, both professionally and in regards to Ewa. They both fall in love with her- she is gorgeous and innocent after all.
But can the men be trusted? Are their feelings true? We begin to get to know the men better and all may not be exactly as it seems or originally appeared to be.
The Immigrant perfectly captures the 1920’s era cinematically with gorgeous cinematography and camera work.
Directed by James Gray, a director with a tendency to direct films set in New York City and feature a romantic element (Two Lovers comes to mind- also starring Joaquin Phoenix as a Jew pursuing a blonde girl).
In The Immigrant, I felt like I was transported to the 1920s with Bruno’s dark coat and bowler and the character’s costumes in general. The Lower East Side, from the automobiles to the theaters, seems like that’s how it was back then- charming, artistic, and yet combustible too.
Marion Cotillard gives a soft yet tough performance as the long-suffering, heart of gold Ewa. The character’s yearning to keep her traditional catholic values while transported into a new and dangerous world filled with corruption and the need to survive is heartbreaking and Cotillard wears her heart on her sleeve. She is also tougher and more stubborn than we first think she is- she will not be taken advantage of and these aspects give the character complexity. I did not see her as a victim.
Let’s not forget the men in the film and while it borders on turning into a “woman’s movie” towards the climax, and Cotillard is certainly front and center, Phoenix and Renner are flawless. Phoenix, with the larger role, is extremely complex and it takes the audience until the final scene to entirely figure Bruno out.
I wish The Immigrant would have found a wider audience, but for fans of a traditional, classic, romantic Hollywood experience, this film is a treat. It will take you back to an earlier time in the world- in a completely authentic way.
Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Female Lead-Marion Cotillard