The Immigrant is a story of rebirth, told through the eyes of a virgin Mary-esque Polish immigrant named Ewa.
The movie, while seemingly unoriginal in its story line, is made incredible with its beautiful chiaroscuro lighting and heavy weight Oscar-winning cast members. At the crux of the story is a tale of redemption and, ultimately, forgiveness.
The first thing you notice watching this movie is the wonderfully cinematic and beautiful way the narrative is relayed. Dreamlike in its sepia-toned lighting, the movie immediately sets you at ease in the time period it is in. Attention to detail is something of a forte for director James Gray, and this movie is no exception. Where it is particularly impressive is in its execution of outdoor sequences, complete with rumbling 1920’s style cars, and men with round hats and canes.
The beginning half of the movie is predictable; Ewa (portrayed by the timeless Marion Cotillard) loses her sister during the health inspection on Ellis Island. We are introduced to a sinister yet charming and handsome man named Bruno (played by the ever eccentric Joaquin Phoenix) who rescues her from the clutches of deportation and takes her on the boat to New York.
It is easy to see from the very onset that he is interested in her, though whether his interest stems from lust or love, it is difficult to tell. It’s not long, though, before we realize that our initial suspicions about his character prove correct. Ewa is not the only girl that he has “saved” — in fact, he has a whole troupe of them, whom he brings to a bar each night to parade around, and then makes prostitute themselves out to whoever pays money. The women, all immigrants like Ewa, have no choice but to comply to earn their keep, less they be deported from the country.
Ewa, noble and religious, at first refuses, but soon realizes that she has no other way to earn money to help her sister, who is still quarantined on the island. Yet, she fights against the shame and sin in other ways; her unbreakable spirit makes her enticing, to both Bruno and the drunken men who desire her body.
Through a matter of circumstance, she meets Orlando (Jeremy Renner), a magician who wins her affection and trust with a procured white rose and a “gosh, you’re beautiful.” She keeps the rose, which wilts as her purity wilts with it, until finally one day Orlando proposes to get money and take her and her sister out west.
Supported with a swelling and moving orchestral score, The Immigrant feels like a drama piece that you’ve seen before, but without being clichéd or overdone, largely thanks to the daring performances of its main characters.
Channeling a bit of the notorious fallen anti-hero Heathcliff, Joaquin Phoenix brings a wild volatility and passion to an otherwise oft-seen brooding male archetype. Phoenix brings a vulnerability to an otherwise cold-hearted character, and somehow wins audiences (and Ewa, to an extent) over in the process.
There is nothing more to say about Marion Cotillard that people do not know. One of the best actors of this generation, she melts seamlessly into the role, and plays Ewa with a finesse and understated flourish that makes the character multidimensional in ways other actors could only hope to emulate. I have endless respect for her devotion to her roles, and in this one for not only being able to play the character believably, but for also taking the time to learn a second language, and then speak Polish-accented English while she herself is a French native.
Boasting a stellar cast and breathtaking storytelling, The Immigrant is a film that is sure to linger in the minds of audiences for a while.
The Immigrant is available on Netflix and Blu-ray.