Ellis Island, where the Statue of Liberty stands, was, in the days of sailing ship travel, America’s busiest immigrant inspection station. It is here that the action of this movie begins, with Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafayan), in the immigration queue. The year is 1921.
Directed by James Gray, the movie felt authentic historically. The costuming and sets were a delight, but it is the cinematography which conveys the viewer back almost a century in time.
Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) is a pimp. He sets Ewa up so that she has nowhere to go but with him.
The movie thus deals with a pure and almost innocent Catholic Polish girl and a worldly (Jewish) rogue from America. I put the “Jewish” in brackets because it is seemingly irrelevant except when he is being beaten up and the assailants call him a “kike”. The contrast between the two and the way they interact is the thrust of the movie. With, of course, a complication in the form of Bruno’s cousin, Emil (Jeremy Renner).
The characterisation is sometimes a bit sketchy, but overall this two hour movie is beautifully drawn, magnificently filmed and very delicate. The sex scenes are glossed over so that no one could possibly be offended. There is some semi-nudity early in the movie.
This is one of those movies that one wouldn’t mind watching a second time, partly to take in the historical feeling, but really to explore the relationship between the people again. The acting is superb. One never doubts the feelings and emotions of the characters. Everything is remarkably plausible. It is the fact that it is all so real which makes this an intimate and tender movie to watch. One almost feels the pain without ever feeling manipulated.
I was entranced. I give the movie 9/10.