Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Golden Door Nuovomondo (2006)

Director:Emanuele Crialese
Release Date: 22 September 2006 (Italy)
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 120 min / Canada:112 min (Toronto International Film Festival)
Country:Italy / Germany / France
Language:Italian / English
I managed to catch the lovely (but rather long) Italian movie “The Golden Door” at the Bryn Mawr film institute some time ago. This film was also shown at the recent Newark film festival. This movie is written and directed by Emanuele Crialese This is a sweet movie that is visually very appealing with a dream like quality to parts of it. I have to admit that I am only vaguely aware of the things that immigrants in the early 20th century had to undergo to make it into this country (setting aside the challenges of making it once admitted). Also given the current debate over immigration policy in this nation of immigrants, and given my own background as an immigrant it was poignant watching this movie.

The movie opens with a windswept, boulder strewn vista and we see two men, bedraggled and barefoot scrambling up this rocky surface. As the close shots of the men’s bloodied feet give way to show them clamber up what looks to be the top of their climb, the camera pans farther away to reveal this beautiful but stark mountainside and that the men have ways to go. They eventually reach the summit, a shrine with a cross and we see small rocks in their mouths slightly bloodied (from being held there) that are now added to the small pile at its bottom.

Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato) and his son Angelo (Francesco Casisa) place their offerings at the shrine and the father asks god for a sign if he should stay or leave their hard scrabble existence behind. A sign (of sorts) does arrive in the form of his other deaf-mute son Pietro (Filippo Pucillo) bearing photographs of what a new life in America purportedly looks like. Those have come to him by way of his grandmother Fortunata (Aurora Quattrocchi) who is performing an exorcism on one of the two women who have are going to America to be married.

Thus begins the story of a group of poor Italians from the mountains of Sicily on a crowded steamship to New York. Salvatore is a widower and is intrigued by a mysterious Englishwoman Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who he meets as they get ready to board the ship. She wants to marry someone for her to be able to enter America. Salvatore agrees. Lucy I thought with her modern world ways served as a metaphor for the new world that Salvatore and his family are aspiring to enter.

For the rest of the movie we travel along with the passengers on the ship, and learn about their dreams and their fears, experience their arduous journey and the realization that even if some of them make it to the shores of America they may not be admitted.

There is also a marriage brokering ceremony performed at Ellis island, which feels like an auction and your heart goes out to some of the young women as they are matched with much older men.

We see the various characters including Salvatore’s family face the various tests that they as potential immigrants must perform and the humiliations they must endure to be admitted to this country. They are forced to solve puzzles, perform mathematical tasks and undergo medical examinations in order to prove that they are "fit". So what will be the fate of the deaf-mute Pietro?
You have to watch this movie to find the answer to the final choice that Salvatore and his family must make that will change their lives in a very profound manner.

In addition to the opening sequences there are several scenes that stayed with me..

The movie has almost no background score for about the first 40 mins or so, and I found that somehow the movie was more riveting allowing me to focus on the “natural” sounds of the story. And the very effective use of sound (the rumble of the engines, the groaning of the metal innards of the ship) accentuate the mood of the movie which has excellent cinematography.

There is a brief interlude when two passengers in the bowels of the ship start to sing, their only accompaniment being the Tambourine, I could not understand the words but the song and the power of their emotions behind it touched me.

As the ship departs for the US there is a shot of all the passengers lined up against the decks looking out at the docks similarly lined with people (Were they the ones left behind? Or could not get on the ship?). As the vessel separates from land slowly we see the distance that separates these two groups of people grow. This felt like it was a metaphor for leaving behind the familiar to begin a perilous journey in to the unknown to find the promised land. And it is a promised land that the immigrants cannot even glimpse thru the fog, as much as they try and so the land of milk and honey that they imagine continues to be that and in this perhaps one can say that the movie has an ambiguous ending.

Watch it if you get a chance, this movie is a touching tribute to immigrants.


Aditi said...

sounds like an interesting movie

Lotus Reads said...

Wow, Sanjay, what a beautiful write up on what appears to be an extremely touching movie. Apart from the book "Accordian Crimes" by Annie Proulx which deals with a generation of Italian immigrants, I don't think I have read, or watched, anything on the subject of Italian immigration and considering how large their population is in North America it is definitely about time I did.

Your descriptions of some of the scenes from the movie are beautiful and provide us with a wonderful mental imagery of what to expect.

A pity about the ambiguous ending, but I think it's fair to assume that the grass wasn't always greener for immigrants in the 20th century. They were discriminated against and life was often tough for them.

Is this movie out on DVD do you know? I am was looking at the date of release and it's been almost a year, so the DVD should be available, no?

Thank you for letting us know about this movie, Sanjay, I know I am definitely going to have to watch it.

joy said...

Sounds very interesting. I like Italian films. Have you seen Cinema Paradiso? I probably have seen it at least 40 times.

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Sanjay said...

Hey there Lotus, Thank you for your generous and kind words. The movie is indeed touching. I have not read “Accordian Crimes” and I should read that, for your book recommendations are always spot on.

I agree about the ambiguous ending, the grass was surely not greener always for the early immigrants and it still is not easy. And I used to think it was hard for me because I came with a mere $100 in my pocket when I first arrived, because that was about all I could afford then. What I have seen around me and movies like these remind me that I had it so much more better.

The movie is out on DVD and I think you will like it too.

Thank you very much for your comment, I always learn something new and interesting from you.

Sanjay said...


@Joy.Thanks for stopping by. Yes I did like cinema paradiso.

ML said...

Sounds like an amazing movie, Sanjay. I liked how you described the first 40 minutes of the film.

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