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.
Where to Watch:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.