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Emanuele Crialese did a fantastic job with one of those films that
linger in the back of your mind for years. It was Respiro (see comments
and synopsis here in IMDb).
Now, carrying the magnificent young talents he had for the first time on screen then, he takes the audience into a dark void. A literal plunge into dangerous waters. The subject is migration. In this case, from Italy to the New World (the name of the film). A big deal calling it for its American release "The Golden Door".
The story of a family that leaves everything and risks the rest -that is, their lives, for a dream.
I hate to spoil the show telling the story, so I'll dwell a bit in the work Crialese and all his team did so brilliantly.
First of all, choosing to stick to what he knows: direct sound as much as possible. This means, the whole film. The textures, the pain, the nuances of reality are always mingled with the smells, the heat or the cold, the sweat and the blood, life and death, as vibrantly as it is in real life.
The squeaks of bent metal and grinding wood, the infamous drone of the wind and the ominous sounds of big engines and ship horns are among the points that make this film so involving.
Cinematography is in the hands of a French couturier. The symbolism of light is present from the very first shot (again, almost the very first shot from Respiro) and pervades throughout the film with intimacy and a terrible sense of desperation. The subdued tones and the very gray and grim depictions of people suffering the cramped and filthy boat they sail to hope is mesmerising.
Light is used sparsely, almost to discover every character in the dark. The beauty of every shot, and every scene is accentuated by the period costumes and the perfectly selected physical features of the actors.
Again, as he usually does, Vincenzo Amato is definitely on his own. He plays the father of two sons (the same actors who were fifteen and twelve and now are nineteen and sixteen) with all the power he always conveys to his very complex characters.
Charlotte Gainsbourg is so-so. I guess she's never achieved again the perfection she reached in The Cement Garden and in her very first film: L'Effrontée.
Maybe it's just that she seems a bit awkward in her role.
The locations and sets are harsh and compelling, almost playing a character on their own.
Maybe the most remarkable character is the one played by Filippo Pucillo, the mute younger son. The contrast here with his first role is complete. Then, he played a supercharged kid that was as relentless as anything around him. Now, his character is all expression. And just that: no words at all. His eyes tell the whole story with sublime power.
Maybe this is one of those films that will not be very well received in the States. It's absolutely Italian in everything. It's so Italian that most of the time, the language is one of the many dialects that is much older than Italian itself. In the USA this film may be a bit too much for Americans because of the subject. But anyone who remembers the story of their families when they arrived in the States, will see this films with awe.
And, again, the minimalism that goes hand in hand with Crialese's ideas is back with a closing scene in the water. Only this time it goes from underwater photography to aerial.
All in all, another great and very well told story from this filmmaker that only this year (2006) has collected 6 prizes and was nominated for the Golden Lion. Not a small deed!
Enhanced by the expressive cinematography of Agnes Godard (Beau
Travail), Golden Door is a visually striking tone poem that follows the
journey of a peasant family from their primitive home in Sicily to
Ellis Island in New York at the turn of the century. It is a surreal,
enigmatic, often strange, but ultimately deeply rewarding experience.
Interweaving dreamlike and symbolic imagery with gritty realism, the
latest film by Emanuele Crialese (Respiro) is like an impressionistic
painting - a cinematic artist's rendering of what the immigration
process may have been like for our parents and grandparents. Crialese's
"magical, mystery tour" came about as a result of his visit to the
museum on Ellis Island, the looks on the faces of the immigrants
depicted in photographs he saw, and his research into the harsh
policies and procedures used during the admission of immigrants.
Guided by letters he read of immigrants sent to relatives who remained at home, Crialese identifies with those impoverished immigrants who were able to see the positive side of things beyond their ordeal. To Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato) and his older son Angelo (Francesco Casisa), America is a distant dream that they know nothing about. After climbing a rocky mountain to pray to the saints for a sign, they are rewarded when they are shown post cards by Salvatore's younger son, Pietro (Filippo Pucillo), a deaf mute, that depict the new world as a land where they can bathe in rivers of milk, sit under a money tree, or harvest giant onions and carrots.
After disposing of their animals in exchange for shoes and suits, Salvatore, his two sons, and his elderly mother Fortunata (Aurora Quattrocchi) set out on their adventure with more hope than trepidation but the equation soon shifts the other way. As they board the boat and settle into their crowded third-class steerage compartments, the most-talked about scene in the film takes place. Using an overhead camera that shows masses of people standing, as the ship pulls away, the frame is divided into those aboard the ship and those waving goodbye from the dock and the way they are separated implies they are being torn asunder from everything familiar.
Aboard the ship is a mysterious English woman named Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Crialese does not reveal her past or the reason she is traveling to America but she seems to stand for the onset of the modern world they are entering. Though they eye each other cautiously, Lucy becomes interested in Salvatore and asks him to marry her in order to allow her to enter the country. The voyage is treacherous with a violent storm buffeting the ship. Shot in almost complete darkness, passengers in steerage are tossed against the side of the boat and, afterward, bodies lie tangled and twisted on the floor as if in a macabre Totentanz. The rite of passage through immigration processing at Ellis Island does not become any easier and Crialese attacks the way illiterate peasants, in the name of preserving "civilized" society, are forced to put puzzles together, perform mathematical tasks, and undergo humiliating medical examinations to prove they are "fit".
A marriage brokering ceremony feels like an auction block and the young women look despondent when they are matched with overweight middle-aged men. This is the only way they can enter the "Golden Door", however, since single women are rejected unless they have partners, ostensibly to prevent the threat of prostitution. Through the fog the immigrant's can barely see the land of milk and honey and there is no Statue of Liberty asking for the tired and the poor, the humbled masses yearning to breathe free. In their imagination, however, the river is still flowing, waiting for them to jump in. Though the ending is ambiguous and one door opens on to a blank wall, another door symbolizes a rebirth of the soul and the passage we must all take from the old world to the new.
This is Christmas time! A nativity in terms of rebirth, or at least this is what can be hoped regarding the Italian cinema. It was something like 30-40 years that the Italian cinema didn't craft an art piece of this size. This is an absolute contemporary film that can be also regarded at the same level of quality as the Italian masterpieces of the past, needless to quote any name. And finally this is also a big production for Italian standards of the time. In this movie there is a rare balance of different elements, all of them understandable and enjoyable at different levels of fruition. Real poetry, real humor, real tenderness, real drama, real beauty. No rhetoric, no easy surreal shortcuts, no typical touristic Tornatore-like picturing, no over acting, no director autoreferentialism. There is also a cool use of two heartbreaking Nina Simone's songs, whose music, I reckon has never been used in a proper way for a score. So if this will not be a real reviveing for the Italian cinema it is an extraordinary evolution for Emanuele Crialese after his 'Respiro' another definitive beautiful film. 'Nuovomondo' is not to be missed, it is that kind of 'medicine film' helpful to enjoy movie-making, movie watching, helpful to enjoy and understand life. Francesco Cabras
THE GOLDEN DOOR (NUOVOMONDO) is for this viewer the finest film of the
year to date. It is a masterpiece of concept, writing, directing,
acting and cinematography. More importantly, this radiantly beautiful
film is a much needed reflective mirror for us to view the history of
immigration of 'foreigners' into America at a time when the very
mention of the word 'borders' is a political fuse. Writer/director
Emanuele Crialese has given us not only a deeply moving story, he has
also provided a touchstone for viewers to re-visit the history of each
of our origins: with the exception of the Native Americans, we all
entered America as 'foreigners' at some point in our histories, and it
is humbling to view this film with that fact in mind.
The film opens in turn of the century Sicily as poverty stricken widower Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato) and his brother Angelo (Francesco Casisa) climb a rocky hill to present their tokens to the cross to ask for a sign as to whether they should continue to struggle for existence on the island or go to America, the land of dreams. Mancuso's deaf mute son Pietro (Filippo Pucillo) runs to the top of the hill with postcards he has found with images of America (money growing on trees, fruits and vegetables larger than people, etc), and Salvatore accepts this as the sign that he should move his family to America. After convincing his reluctant mother Fortunata (Aurora Quattrocchi) and his sisters Rita (Federica De Cola) and Rosa (Isabella Ragonese) to make the trip, he sells his only possessions (two donkeys, goats, and rabbits) and the man with the boat arranges their trip, giving the family shoes, appropriate clothing, and instructions to board an ocean liner as third class passengers. As the Mancuso family prepares to board they are asked for a photograph, and as they pose behind a painted set, an Englishwoman Lucy/Luce (Charlotte Gainsbourg) walks into the photo as though she were part of this peasant family. Lucy cannot board the boat for America without male escort.
The voyage begins and Luce in her gentle way identifies with the Mancuso family, finally solidifying her safe passage by proposing to Salvatore to marry her 'for convenience, not for love' when they arrive in America. Through a violent storm and living conditions that are appalling poor, the multitude of third class passengers survive, bond, and eventually arrive at Ellis Island, believing their dream of America has been fulfilled. But everyone must pass harsh physical tests, de-lousing, and even intelligence testing to determine if they can enter America: the officials let them know that America does not want genetically inferior people entering the new world! Each woman must be selected by a man to marry on Ellis Island before they are allowed admission. The manner in which the Mancuso family remains united until a somewhat surprising ending is the closing of the tale.
Few of us understand the strict rules and harsh treatment immigrants face (or at least faced at the turn of the century) on Ellis Island, and if we do we have elected to submerge that information. THE GOLDEN DOOR presents the case for immigrants' struggles in a manner that not only touches our hearts but also challenges our acceptance of current immigration legislation. But all political issues aside, THE GOLDEN DOOR is first and foremost a film of enormous beauty, exquisite photography, deeply felt performances by a huge cast, and a very sensitively written and directed story. The is a film that deserves wide distribution, a movie that is a must see for everyone. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
I just had the opportunity to see 'Nuovomondo' (hitherto known in the U.S. as 'The Golden Door'), and was very impressed by both it's dreamy & occasionally surreal tale of a family that immigrates from Sicially to the U.S. in the early days of the 20th century. It also worked as a (proverbial)middle finger jammed into the eyeball of Homeland Security (preferably all the way up to the 3rd knuckle),in it's depiction of the ill treatment of foreigners who just want a better life than they were getting from their original mother land. The (mostly) Italian cast, with a few exceptions works well. This is a quiet,understated film that is lovely to look at (the occasional,but tasteful use of surrealism is always a pleasure),while the screenplay is well written. This is a film for those who are sick & tired of mindless escapism from Hollywood that serves little more than to sell popcorn (not that I have any burning issues with popcorn,mind you!---I actually love the stuff). You would do wise to seek out Nuovomondo/The Golden Door (or whatever it's being titled in your area).
Some days ago, in Rome, a young Romanian man with criminal precedents
assaulted and tortured to death a middle-age lady coming back home
after an afternoon of shopping. A Romanian girl, who had seen
everything, reported what happened.
Therefore, it started a debate about the too much intense flow of immigrants from Romania, generalizing them as criminals, everyone, indiscriminately.
I'm only 15, but I thought: what idea of affluence does Italy give to these poor people? How ever do they regard us as the Land of Plenty? Yesterday evening I finally saw NUOVOMONDO, and my question had an answer. When you have only a donkey and some goats, those propaganda postcards showing United States as a land with milk rivers and huge vegetables, makes such an impression.
NUOVOMONDO is really a must-see film. It balances an ethereal symbolism (milk rivers, glances' play, hard and rocky mountains, the name and character Lucy/Luce) and a cruel realism (the mass of hopeful people on the ship, the procedures at Ellis Island). There's a mixed cast, going from the angelic Charlotte Gainsbourg to the realistic Vincenzo Amato, till a bitter and smashing Aurora Quattrocchi as the mother. But was it really so hard to enter in the New World?
"Nuovomondo (2006)" (shown in the U.S. as "The Golden Door") was
written and directed by Emanuele Crialese. This film is different--and,
I think, better--than most movies about impoverished people who leave
Europe and come to the United States.
The film begins with scenes in a poor, rural region of Sicily. We always hear that Sicily is a rocky island, but you won't really understand the implications of that phrase until you see the first half-hour of "The Golden Door."
The middle section of the film is devoted to the long voyage to the U.S. Most immigration films show us ten minutes of people in the third-class section becoming seasick, and then show us the Statue of Liberty. Not this movie--we get a sense for life below decks, and it isn't charming. (We never actually see the Statue of Liberty, either.)
Finally, the typical movie will give us another ten minutes of Ellis Island, and then the immigrants are walking through New York's Lower East Side. Not here--the Ellis Island experience occupies about one-third of the footage.
Vincenzo Amato is outstanding as Salvatore Mancuso, who is bringing his two sons and his mother to the new world. Charlotte Gainsbourg is equally good as Lucy Reed, a mysterious Englishwoman who also speaks fluent Italian.
There are some strange touches in the movie, especially the sound track with songs by Nina Simone. There must be some symbolism there, but I couldn't make sense of it.
Another reviewer has already pointed out that this film will do better viewed in a theater rather than on DVD. Still, large screen or small screen, it's worth seeking out.
This film is an impressionistic, poetic take on the immigrant
experience, a reflective look at the turmoil and fear which might be
associated with emigrating. These are aspects not often considered in
movies about emigration to America in particular and to to any country
more generally and the film vividly and convincingly depicts the
nervousness and enthusiasm, if ignorance, that poor, illiterate
Sicilian immigrants have in anticipation of their emigration to the
They have some fantastic, unrealistic notions about the United States which are disseminated on the trip over. One is that the rivers run with milk, an image which is depicted in the movie to poetic, impressionistic effect. The film is devoid of sound and the silence seems to reflect the uneasiness of the ignorance the locals have about life in America, or if not ignorance of it, a vision significantly colored with superstition and fantasy.
That said, the movie depicts with jolting realism, the boat ride to the United States and the intake process which arrivals at Ellis Island had to undergo. The boat ride is imagined as rather dull which surely it was much of the time. The quarters in which the incoming residents sleep is depicted as extremely crowded with beds spaced four or five inches from one another and lacking much light, which it was surely the case below deck.
Again, the film is not supplemented with undue music or excessively bright lighting and the effect is to create a fairly realistic imagining of what it was truly like for people emigrating to the United States. The villagers may not be worldly, but they are quite reasonable, and the interaction with the eldest of the emigrants, Fortunata (Aurora Quattrocchi) with the immigration officer who insists on particular results, are quite bittersweet inasmuch as they are not diluted or softened for the benefit of a syrupy conclusion and one sees the melding of the realism of Sicily with the extensive regulations which guide life in the United States.
The immigrants and their story are very interesting and the combination of cold-eyed realism and the magical fantasy of peoples' imaginations make for a persuasive vision of the beliefs held by Sicilians, or any people, with little formal education moving to the United States. The acting is similarly barebones; it is not at all demonstrative or showy, but seems the more realistic for it. That said, all the main performers, in particular Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato), the clear leader of the group is excellent. While never smiling, his character's actions speak much louder and it is clear that (thankfully) the other members of the group, his two sons and the above mentioned elder Fortunata, the boys' grandmother, have faith in his leadership abilities and respect his clear leadership. Amato imbues his character with great decency and forthrightness and it is a testament to his abilities that his character appears so capable and confident while his character betrays very little emotion.
One oddness of the film is a chance encounter with a mysterious Englishwoman (the excellent and fittingly mysterious Charlotte Gainsbourg) who speaks Italian and, during the entire film, we wonder why she is going to the United States or what connection she has to the otherwise unanimously Sicilian emigrant group. At the end, this is finally revealed and the revelation is done typically realistically and does not seem particularly melodramatic or showy.
The film is directed by Emmanuel Crialese who has a firm grasp on the realistic, if sometimes superstitious world view his characters inhabit and presents it competently and confidently. It is in fact fantastically confident given how awkwardly the realism and superstition might have combined in the film. It is a worthy examination of the immigrant experience.
So now I have a very good idea what my immigrant grandparents went
through traveling by boat from Italy and through Ellis Island aka
"Golden Door" in the early part of the twentieth century. Emanuel
Crialese's Golden Door amply describes the primitive living
circumstances that motivate these adventurers to leave home, the
cramped weeks aboard a steamer, and the indignities. In fact, the
director is so precise that most of the tale lumbers through the
details of living and then processing at the island to the detriment of
engaging story telling.
The only relief from the boredom (like the voyage) is the occasional Fellini-like impressionism: One prominently has characters swimming in milk (as in the "land of milk and honey") more than once. It could be argued that the director doesn't prepare the audience for the abrupt transitions into the formalist episodes, but I felt relief with them.
By contrast Mira Nair's recent Namesake is superior in telling an interesting story about identity and the new world, and Chaplin's Immigrant (1917) makes the boat ride a model of slapstick and the restaurant scene not only humorous but telling about the challenges immigrants inevitably face. Nobody ever said Chaplin was boring.
Charlotte Gainsbourg stands out as Lucy, a husband-seeking Brit whose literate background makes her useful, and whose role as a strong, beautiful woman allows the film to explore the prejudices against women. She is unforgettable when she and other women sit in a room awaiting the magistrate's permission to marry a man often the woman is meeting for the first time. That a woman would need a man to qualify for entry into America may not be so anachronistic given Hilary needing Bill to make her political career in the twenty first century.
Agnes Godard's cinematography is often the salvation of a scene, for instance when she catches two mountain climbers with rocks in their mouths deftly negotiating a rock-strewn hill top to arrive at a shrine. Mostly she photographs the climbers close up to keep the adventurous sense of surprise. Then she reduces them to just more rubble as she pulls back into a major bird's eye view losing them slowly just as their journey across the Atlantic will reduce them again.
It's a slow journey.
Golden Door is a miniature epic, tracking a Sicilian's family
emigration to the USA. It starts much too slowly, and although
characters are established, it is ill thought out - particularly the
dream sequences, which could have provided an added insight.Once the
action moves onto the voyage, however, and Charlotte Gainsbourg's
character is introduced, an interesting story emerges, and this,
combined with humorous touches, are what make the film bearable. It is
well directed and shot, with the other lead character, Vincenzo Amato,
3 / 5
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