Film Reviews

The Immigrant, or: Occasionally I Need to Take a Break from Bad Movies to Listen to Marion Cotillard Speaking Polish

I’m going to be honest, and it kind of hurts to admit this: I need just a teensy break from bad movies. Believable character motivations I miss. Meaningful dialogue also. Good special effects. Wardrobe and set design that MAKE SENSE.

I will say that reviewing primarily one type of film has given me a greater appreciation for people committed to one genre of book, film, music, etc. I lack the focus for that kind of dedication.

I’m going to call this a Hipster film just because it doesn’t really fit in with any of my other categories and it features multiple foreign languages. Really, I think most hipsters would consider the following too melodramatic and Marion Cotillard too mainstream, so basically this film is perfect to me.

The Film:

The Immigrant

Where to Watch:

Netflix

The Premise:

A young Polish immigrant struggling to reunite with her sister must become a sex worker and contend with the general shadiness of men in 1920s New York.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

There is trouble from the start for Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister, Magda, two young Polish women who have come to the United States to live with their aunt and uncle in the 1920s.

Immediately upon arrival at Ellis Island, Magda is detained under suspicion of having lung disease (TB? Right?). Ewa is detained as well because the address she for her aunt and uncle’s house does not exist, and she was accused of having low morals on the ship (tell Marion she has low morals ONE more time, Ellis Island official).

Luckily (ha), Bruno, played by Joaquin Phoenix, comes along and promises to get Ewa in to the country and hire her as a seamstress. Plus he can use his connections to get Magda released from the detention center. In reality, he expects Ewa to be a prostitute and perform in a shady cabaret, but first he has to play a bunch of mind games.

Bruno basically makes her feel super guilty that she stole some money from the other women and that she tells him to back off when he tries to embrace her. So now she has to perform in the semi-nude cabaret as Lady Liberty. They also have clowns (?). One of my biggest takeaways from this movie is that I have even less of a clue than originally thought about what the actual fuck cabaret was.

A woman with jewelry arranged to make her look like the Statue of Liberty stands next to a clown onstage.
The Hooters of the 1920s, featuring clowns and women dressed as famous American landmarks.

Shortly after, Ewa gets her first client (john?), a young man whose father wants him to lose his virginity. (This movie killed every single moment when I’ve thought to myself, “Hmmmm, it might’ve been kind of cool to live in the ‘20s.”)

The following night, Ewa escapes to her aunt and uncle. They initially welcome her and it seems that she will be able to stay with them. However, because this movie is all about the heartbreak of the immigrant experience, her uncle rescinds the offer when he discovers her “low morals.” The police arrive and take her back to Ellis Island, informing her she will be deported.

A woman in an austere room looks down, saying "I am not nothing."
You are, in fact, EVERYTHING. (I might have a SLIGHT crush on Marion Cotillard.)

Before her hearing, there is a show for the potential deportees. Why? I don’t know. Does deportation sting slightly less when you get dinner and a show (minus the dinner part)?

One of the performers is Orlando the Great, a magician played by Jeremy Renner with a lot of eyeliner. He notices Ewa and gives her a flower.

The next day, Bruno visits Ewa and gets her released. Ewa demands more money, but doesn’t trust Bruno to hold up his end of the bargain (a wise woman).

Ewa encounters Orlando the Great, aka Emil, again when the owner of the cabaret hires him as an entertainer. They’re cousins, but Bruno hates him because of his past history of drinking, gambling, and being, in general, more charming.

Emil brings Ewa on stage for his mind reading act, which just ends in tears when the audience shouts insults at her and starts throwing things. Bruno and Emil get into a fistfight, which erupts into chaos as pretty much all of the men fight with all of the other men just ‘cause. The owner, Rosie, fires Bruno, who takes the ladies with him to start a new business.

A woman with red lips and an elegant dress stands onstage next to a man wearing a collared shirt and vest.
Sorry all of my screencaps are of Marion Cotillard looking fabulous. (No, I’m not.)

The new business is essentially Bruno and the women wandering around Central Park, trying to convince random dudes to pick them up by telling them they’re Vanderbilts and Fricks and such who ran away from home.  I guess that’s a turn-on if you’re a 1920s dude.

There’s a teenager who pretends to hire Ewa so Emil can talk to her and apologize for embarrassing her the night before. This seems kind of sweet at first, but b/c Emil and Bruno have two distinct stories surrounding their past history, it begs the question of whether Ewa should trust Emil, Bruno, or none of the above (ah, the ever-recurrent theme of “Don’t trust a bro”).

Bruno arrives and, seeing Ewa and Emil together, freaks the fuck out and attacks Emil with a knife. Emil is pretty fucking stupid because he enjoys deliberately provoking Bruno. The police arrive and break up the fight; Bruno will spend the night in jail.

After the knife incident, one of the other girls comes to talk to Ewa, aka blame her for everything. She says Bruno protects them from the shady/abusive/diseased dudes. Without him, the girls are losing money and may have to take it out of her cut. Yeah, Ewa is not putting up with your bullshit.

A woman in a dark-colored dress holds a pair of scissors menacingly.
I will fucking END you with these scissors.

Emil also talks to Ewa, telling her of his plans to go to California. He asks her to be his assistant, but she declines to stay in New York near her sister.

When Bruno is released from jail the next day, Ewa goes to meet him.

She goes to church for Candlemass and confesses to being a woman of low morals. Bruno overhears her confession and appears to feel really conflicted. He’s such a confusing fucking character. This whole scene is awful because Ewa is ashamed and fears going to hell. Her confessor is surprisingly understanding, telling her the Lord rejoices even more when the lost lamb is found. (Listening, fundamentalists???)

That night, Emil visits Ewa and says he has money to get Magda released and all of them to go West like one big happy family. Ewa warns him to leave because Bruno has a gun.

When Bruno shows up, it turns out Emil has stolen the gun. He faces Bruno and fucks around with him, pointing the gun at his temple. (Lots of crazies in this family. LOTS. OF. CRAZIES.)

Basically because I believe in this movie and really think you should watch it, I will refrain from giving you any more plot details. Also a little bit because I’m tired. (Okay, a lot because I’m tired.)

Suffice it to say that only one man walks away from the Bruno/Emil confrontation, and Ewa either is or is not reunited with her sister.

The Critique:

I know the plot summary sounds super melodramatic, but there’s a surprising amount of subtlety and believable character motivations.

The acting is so great in this movie, all around. Marion Cotillard portrays Ewa’s incredibly inner strength beautifully, and her Polish sounds really convincing. Admittedly, I can say ONE thing in Polish and have never really listened to people speaking Polish for an extended period of time, but I believe everything Marion does is perfect. She’s going to be the BEST Lady Macbeth.

Joaquin Phoenix is also excellent in this film. Let’s just pretend his whole fake meltdown never happened.

If you like a good old-fashioned melodrama like Mogambo or Now, Voyager. Just be advised that this movie will probably enrage you on the behalf of all women everywhere.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 4/5 Pink Panther heads

I’m tempted to go as high as 4.5 Pink Panther heads for this one. It’s a really good movie, though I do acknowledge that your enjoyment of the movie will depend a lot upon the degree to which you worship Marion Cotillard as a goddess.

P.S. In other news, since my review of Codependent Lesbian Space Alien, I’m getting waaaaaaaaaaay more hits from creeps looking for porn using keyword searches such as “porno of a planet space lesbians” and “lesbian sex spitting hardcore.” I don’t even know what that last one means, but please don’t enlighten me.

Favorite recent search that brought someone to my blog: “why are mermaids boobs not covered.” Ah, the eternal question.

Blogging 101, Film Reviews

Hipster Headache: The Lark Farm

I’m cheating a little bit at Blogging 101 for this post. My “new element” for this prompt is the introduction of a new series of film reviews tentatively called “Hipster Headache,” written using my inner hipster. Occasionally I enjoy watching movies that aren’t intentionally awful. In this new series, I’ll review whatever indie, foreign, or forgotten films strike my fancy.

This post is dedicated to you, dream reader. I suppose that is essentially just someone who gets my humor and doesn’t find my irreverence offensive.

First in this series?

The Lark Farm. You’ve probably never heard of it. It’s Italian.

Where to Watch?

You’ll have to borrow, rent, or buy; otherwise hope it’s hidden in some dark corner of the internet. Netflix is so mainstream.

The Premise?

Our film follows Nunik, a young Armenian woman who lives with her family in Turkey, through the Armenian genocide in 1915 and its aftermath.

The Uncondensed Version?

This is a rather mysterious film on my list because I have no recollection of how, when, or why I decided I would like to watch this movie. All I could remember was that it had something to do with WWI, and, since it’s the centennial of the war’s start, I thought I should write about at least one related film. I keep forgetting about the centennial even though my calendar for this year is WWI propaganda and then feeling bad about it. Since this film focuses on the Armenian genocide, I suppose I still haven’t really appropriately acknowledged WWI.

The movie begins with a close-up shot of grapes. I’m still not completely sure why; maybe they’re a symbol for the luxury and vitality of life in the pre-war period. Possibly because this movie is Italian, and you’ve got a lot of grapes and wine in Italy. There’s also the whole wine/blood of Christ thing. Maybe just because grapes are tasty and a nifty portable snack. Any or all of the above.

After we’ve seen a lot of grapes, the old patriarch of the family dies, but not before having a vision of blood and telling the family they must leave immediately. (This movie may actually be a retelling of Watership Down.)

The Turkish and Armenian community will be (briefly) united for the patriarch’s funeral. Our protagonist, Nunik, is pretty pumped for the funeral because she’ll be able to see the sexy Turkish soldier she’s been crushing on. She pretty much spends the entire funeral giving the Turkish soldier “come hither” glances.  This movie is going to end like The Sound of Music, isn’t it? Except with everyone dying.

A woman wearing a headscarf looks confidently ahead.
This can only end in tears.

The next day, the Turkish soldier visits Nunik and asks her to run away to Europe with him. I’m really not sure if going or staying would be a better option at this point.

A woman stands facing away from a man in uniform telling him, "I'm not afraid, but you shouldn't have come."
I swear, this exact line appears in Singing in the Rain.

The homeless Turkish guy who is a friend of Nunik’s family overhears their plan and reports it to the soldier’s commanding officer. The soldier gets the choice of being sent to the Russian front or being demoted and escorting the Armenians out of the country. He chooses the former.

This is interspersed with a lot of debating behind closed doors about the relative value versus threat of the Armenian people. As always with closed door discussions, there is a lot of snooping behind curtains and the like, which led me to anticipate Shakespearean-level misunderstandings and stabbings.

Soon after, the heads of all of the Armenian households are ordered to report to the prefecture. Unsurprisingly, very few of them actually go. Nunik’s family and several other members of the Armenian community flee to their remote property, the Lark Farm. Another not-so-shocking revelation: this ends terribly. The homeless guy is forced to show the Turks where the farm is. When they arrive, the Turkish troops kill all of the boys and men, then force the women to begin a death march.

At this point, everyone in Nunik’s family has died or is on the death march. All of the Turkish soldiers are completely awful except for one who is kind of decent. Nunik begins a sexual relationship with him, and he gives her bread for the children.

Meanwhile, the homeless guy feels terrible for betraying the family, so he and their maid plan to help them escape. Their big plan is to drive a wagon to the line of Armenians, then smuggle them out at night. Yeah. That’s the big plan…which actually WORKS. Mostly.  Somehow the homeless guy is able to approach Nunik in broad daylight and tell her to be ready for the escape that evening.

Nunik goes to see the decent-ish Turkish guy that evening, as usual. He tells her he has asked for a transfer closer to home, and promises to take her with him. She says she won’t be going with him, and actually TELLS HIM SHE PLANS TO ESCAPE TONIGHT. He becomes enraged, threatening to tell the other soldiers if she doesn’t agree to stay, reminding her that anyone who tries to escape is burned alive and beheaded.

A man and woman sit across from each other at a small table, the woman saying "I can no longer love anyone."
If threatening her with a fiery death doesn’t make her love you, then nothing will.

Eventually, the Turkish guy decides to let her go. However, as Nunik and her family escape, one of the girls screams after she drops an apple. (Children. Ruin. EVERYTHING.) Her family runs to the wagon, while Nunik runs back to the camp in an effort to distract the soldiers. It appears she will be burned alive when the decent-ish Turkish guy appears. He kills her quickly so she won’t suffer as much.

After the war, he testifies in court about the events of the massacre. When the judge asks who he is accusing specifically, he says, “Myself” because he killed the woman he loved. This scene might have been more convincing to me if he hadn’t threatened to have her BURNED AND BEHEADED shortly before.

The Critique?

There’s nothing as painful as a sincere but awful war film. I felt bad that I didn’t feel any sympathy for the characters, then I felt bad because I felt the directors cared a great deal about this movie but it still fell short, and then I felt bad for the real victims of the Armenian genocide who receive this film as one of the few tributes to their memory.

I just didn’t care about any of the characters, and it didn’t really bother me that terrible things happened to them.  So either I have a heart of stone or the film failed to establish sympathetic characters and evoke any feelings of compassion. Both could be true but, since I’m the critic, I blame the film.

It might have been more interesting for one of the children to reflect years later on how Nunik saved them. Or even for the decent-ish Turkish guy to be haunted by what he had seen and done.

Also, the first Turkish soldier was a completely unnecessary character in this film. This is a comparatively minor issue, but he appears on the front cover of the DVD case even though he’s in the movie for about 15 minutes. Maybe he’s a big star in Italy? That’s the only logical explanation.

The Rating?

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther3/5 Pink Panther heads