The Immigrant ★★

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Recognizing I missed my chance to weigh in on the show — Josh and Michael Phillips discuss on #494 — and knowing I'll never make time to construct a legitimate written review, I'm posting the mostly-stream-of-consciousness notes I wrote down over the course of a long flight a couple days after seeing the movie. Would not say there are spoilers below, but as with any Filmspotting review, probably best to consume after seeing it.

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Had such a different experience than many critics, read a couple reviews… Jake Cole, Movie Mezzanine, really good take… Amazing how much easier it is for passion to come out in your review when you are passionate about what you saw…

Very little of this movie resonated with me, or connected with me emotionally… And this is a fundamentally melodramatic movie, often subdued, but there are big emotions on display everywhere… Cotillard separated from her sister almost the second they arrive at Ellis Island, very sick, may die… Ewa has to degrade herself, become a prostitute (not that Gray portrays that in too gritty a fashion, think we only see her in bed with a john at one point and she’s almost glowing, she looks more radiant than she appears at any other point in the movie, tender exchange with yet another man telling her how beautiful she is)… Overall, very little hope for her… Should never close her eyes, because every time she does, she wakes up and something bad is staring her in the face... Is she going to reunite with her sister? Is she going to find happiness, more simply than that, is she going to find a life with less despair? If not all out weeping at several points, I should have at least been invested in Ewa’s plight… I wasn’t, became for me more just curiosity about where Gray was going to take the story, not actually being swept up in it...

Most of it has to do with Phoenix’s character… but where I started to disengage with the movie was at the exact point Gray started pushing the plot along… Sequence at Bruno’s club involving Orlando/Emil and him bringing Ewa up on stage, she gets embarrassed, Bruno becomes outraged, chaos ensues… to the point where Bruno, out of ego and madness all swirling around his tangled feelings for both Ewa and Orlando, upends all of their lives and the rest of the movie… Fairly confident I know what Gray wanted me to experience there, wanted me to understand about the dynamics of all their relationships, but I didn’t buy a second of it… I didn’t believe his decision to bring her up on stage, the emotional journey she takes on stage, the one Bruno takes backstage… Could feel the screenplay at work, and instead of this sequence being an isolated one, it was actually just the precursor for later chaos when Orlando appears again… More chaos borne out of convenience and necessity not character…

My lack of emotional connection - two scenes where characters prostrate themselves, begging, before another… The first, Cotillard, doing the heavy lifting… Gray can emboss it with all the forgiveness and redemption talk he wants, which is mostly thrust into the movie about halfway through and then just continues to be hammered… all I could focus on was, again, how the plot needed her to do it, to get to the ‘real’ dramatic ending…

Phoenix, at the end… My guess is if you’re engaged with the movie, if Gray is pushing all the right buttons for you, then it’s one of those bravura actor moments that you find both devastating and wondrous… Marveling at Phoenix’s performance and the well of emotion he draws from… Should be culmination of his and Ewa's arc. Say this humbly, deep respect for Phoenix and respect what Gray is trying to achieve in the scene… I was embarrassed, uncomfortable… Like when you see a clip on the Internet of someone humiliating themselves publicly… Phoenix was going for it, man was he going for it, but the support just isn’t there, the movie didn’t lay the foundation, for me, for that vulnerability...

No surprises with Cotillard… her character or her performance, very good, not a false note… Like that there’s no sentimentality to Ewa, not wholly a victim… stoicism in the performance that works. The way she’s written, she has more dignity, more determination than the other prostitutes… But she’s undeniably passive, defined by her beauty… Get that that’s how she should be defined in this 1920s context, the problem is the movie doesn’t convince me that Gray truly cares to define her by more than her beauty.

Becomes oddly and unfortunately for a movie called The Immigrant, a movie she dominates in terms of sympathy and screen time… not so much about her journey, but about how she facilitates Bruno’s journey… Another immigrant story, another female story, where the ‘other’s’ will is subjugated for the man, in this case a white man (though Jewish, which is notable)… That Phoenix prostrating scene that’s the climax of the movie, his action, his epiphany… She acts too, she makes a choice… It’s not the dramatic choice he makes though. And it’s a choice that ultimately helps transform him, more than it transforms her. LESS ABOUT HER FORGIVING THAN HIS FORGIVENESS/REDEMPTION.

- Is Phoenix’s character and performance complex or whatever Gray needs it to be scene to scene?
- Bruno’s inconsistency… crazy, dangerous, ruthless… or a baby… Glad he isn’t a pure villain, sympathetic in some ways… encourage that type of complexity… here it’s incongruity. Could/should they have been switched? Renner would have been better, more sinister but charismatic as Bruno. Love thought of Phoenix as magician. Sense of Phoenix trying to make him something he isn’t. At odds.
- All the police stuff, the knife fight, annoying…

- Undeniably naturally beautiful, diffused lighting, tobacco look
- Final shot, majestic, culminates better than all of Phoenix's sniveling ever could
- Seeing the wire when Orlando elevates… Gray, winking at us, truly about belief when even the people there can probably see the wire. They choose to believe.

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