James Gray’s The Immigrant (2014) is a landmark in American Cinema that will one day be credited as a modern masterpiece. It is a tour de force in all respects, taking the most appealing qualities of European art cinema and presenting these qualities through a dramatic, westernized narrative. Gray’s command of filmic elements and ability to inspire wonderful performances bridges techniques between such disparate, but equally fortuitous, auteurs such as Martin Scorsese and Robert Bresson. Through confident framing, and despite certain minimalist characteristics, the film’s entertaining rhythm and pace are never tarnished. It serves to appeal to multiple aesthetic preferences, including that of both austerity and complexity.
The film is most notable for its calculated mise-en-scene which contributes towards a highly immersive and taut atmosphere. The grit and grain in conjunction with a rather grey colour pallette recalls the aesthetic of old 35 mm film stock. Along with post-production dimming, it helps to support the film’s aim to realize the past as authentically as possible. The mood is sincere and helps to capitulate the interiority of Ewa, a suffering Polak who faces the possibility of deportation and the loss of her sister. Played by Marion Cotillard, Ewa is depicted not only as a victim of circumstance but as a lost soul seeking redemption in a world full of tribulations.
Giving perhaps her finest performance to date, Marion Cottilard embodies Ewa’s spirit: her pain, her yearning, and her vulnerability. Opposite her is the equally formidable Joaquin Phoenix whose turn as a narcissistic—perhaps masochistic—kingpin provides a stark gaze into darkness, desperation, and mania. The two opposing figures, brought together by circumstance, convey a struggle between light and dark, between an angel and the devil. The religious undertones convey this sensibility; John Taverner’s sorrowful Funeral Canticle periodically appears to distil solemnity as well as the search for forgiveness. The final shot, a picturesque and soon to be iconic portrait of longing, lingers in the mind long after the credits appear. In perfect harmony, equity, and fluidity—rendered formally through composition—their souls depart ways but remain entangled in a world of ambiguity and hypocrisy, one where forgiveness for past sins remains always an instance out of one’s reach.
96/100 – Masterful