Marion Cotillard has not been nominated for an Academy Award since her role as Édith Piaf won the statuette for “La Vie En Rose” in 2007. A second nomination for her work in this year’s “The Immigrant” should be a given, except that the normally awards-hungry Harvey Weinstein has put so little faith into this remarkable film that it is no surprise that the majority of those reading this will not have even heard of it before now. Despite its star power, production values, and guaranteed high placement on many end-of-year lists, this is a film that won’t be seen in more than a few dozen theaters. Those afforded that opportunity should not pass it up.
In this film, Cotillard plays Ewa, a Polish immigrant who arrives in America circa 1921, having escaped her war-torn homeland with her sickly sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) and having suffered no shortage of humiliation on their oceanic journey. Their arrival in the land of milk and honey rapidly goes downhill when Magda is quarantined, leaving Ewa at the mercy of a shady businessman named Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), whose manipulative ways speak to both exploitation and genuine compassion. A romantic triangle, religious intolerance and a society oppressive against woman are among the many obstacles that threaten to crush Ewa – but in doing so reveal someone with a diamond-like temerity.
“The Immigrant” is James Gray’s fifth film as a writer/director, proving par for the course in both its excellence and its tragically being overlooked by the movie culture at large. Gray’s films have a sturdy poeticism and a stripped-down purity that frequently brings to mind the work of classic Hollywood masters; by resting their laurels on such things as storytelling, characterizations, performances, and cinematography, these films lack the advertising hooks necessary for a cynical market reliant on name brands. “The Immigrant” is as haunting, and haunted, as any of his prior achievements. With or without recognition, he is one of our true living masters.
“The Immigrant” starts at the Goggleworks Theatre on Friday, July 11.
Robert Humanick is a contributing writer for slantmagazine.com