Darius Khondji

I is for The Immigrant (2013)

Trigger warning, the film has mentions of rape and sexual assault.

New York, 1921. Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cotillard), a Polish immigrant is tricked into working in a burlesque theatre as she tries to make enough money to get her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) out of the infirmary on Ellis Island.

The Immigrant is one of those films that I’m glad I’ve watched as I think it’s impressively made with some great central performances, but I don’t think I’d ever watch it again as it was so bleak.

When Ewa is stranded at Ellis Island after her aunt and uncle supposedly do not come to claim her, she is rescued by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a charming man who works at a burlesque club cum brothel. Bruno is emotionally and financially manipulative towards Ewa, and presumably to a lot of the other women he has working for him, but while they are used to their jobs and way of life, Ewa doesn’t want to live like this and uses it as a means to an end.

When Orlando (Jeremy Renner), a magician and fellow performer at the theatre arrives, Ewa finds herself torn between the two men. One who has always looked to control her while the other takes her as she is and perhaps could make her feel loved rather than used. With Orlando’s appearance, Bruno starts to unravel and while he has always been a showman, you begin to see how much of his entire life and persona was act. Bruno is an interesting character as while he’s definitely not nice or good, at times you can almost pity him.

The fact that The Immigrant has a sepia-tone throughout, courtesy of cinematographer Darius Khondji, and an emotional yet often haunting score from Christopher Spelman, makes the film seem almost classic and timeless. The attention to detail in the production design and costumes too make it really easy to become immersed in this time period and be swept up in the difficult situation Ewa finds herself in.

The Immigrant is a great looking film with a fantastic lead performance from Cotillard. It is a film with a bit of a slow plot but the performances are often riveting so it’s not too noticeable. As I said, it is a pretty bleak film though. The things Ewa goes through and how she struggles to deal with her guilt and perceived sin is tough to watch. 4/5.