The inaugural screening for my filmic fanboy dalliance at MIFF (the Melbourne International Film Festival) for 2014 was an evening première of writer/director James Gray’s The Immigrant — and, to invoke the timeworn clichè of all those nostalgists whom bloviate over pop.-culture, they just don’t make films like this anymore. They’d be right.
This is a film of a stately classicism and sedate formalism rarely seen outside of the Hollywood studio system romances of Elias Kazan, master of melodrama and monochromatic mood. You’d be hard pressed to disparage with or deviate from the Kazan associations when surmising Joaquin Phoenix’s brooding, elliptical and finally turbulent performance as Bruno Weiss, as there’s some suggestion of Brando in his penitent and dishevelled scramble for purity in the film’s climactic final scenes — albeit maybe A Place In the Sun-era Montgomery Clift, with his sweat-beaded brow and his convulsive retreat into guilt, would be more accurate.
However, there’s more to Gray’s vision here than mere cinematic mimicry or earnest homage, and the film blooms into something simultaneously familiar and strange through the startling, impeccable, emotionally-invested and invariably soulful performance of Marion Cotillard, who never flags in telegraphing to a hushed audience the moral erosion her character, Ewa Cybulska, feels she’s inflicted on herself and her dream for American providence. Continue reading