July 27, 2014 1 Comment
Perhaps it is projecting too much to want this film, focused on two sisters immigrating from Poland in the aftermath of WWI, to speak to our current immigration situation, as a way of saying how the issues have largely been the same through our history. This is not that film. That Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and Magda are in essence refugees from violence in their homeland relates well enough to those presently trying to come from places like Somalia or Central America. But the terror of where they are from is not really a focus. Nor is the focus on some kind of “American Dream” quest to improve one’s station.
Instead, the common theme here is survival, and the moral or legal corners one cuts in the name of survival, especially when so few (the government or family included) are available to help. It is true that for many emigrating from their native country is an act of survival, and their willingness to cheat the immigration laws follows from that. The law may not show great flexibility in forgiving a thief who acts to avoid starvation rather than one that steals for greed (given the track record on enforcing white collar crime, the inverse may be true), but as humans we should be capable of that.
Aside from its lack of sociopolitical relevance (again, more by design than neglect), I do feel like between this and Two Lovers, Gray shows a somewhat weak hand on plotting. The conflict between Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) and Emil (Jeremy Renner) never quite sets up the way it needs to, and Ewa feels too sidelined at those times, to the detriment of the film. I’m also a bit conflicted over Bruno’s revelation near the end as it makes the whole thing feel a bit over-determined. Gray undoubtedly has a good visual style, and gets decent performances, but even though this represents a step forward from Two Lovers, it remains kind of middling fare.