Starring: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix
for sexual content, nudity and some language.
Reviewer: Carol Hemphill
In winter 1921, Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cotillard) arrives at Ellis Island from Poland. Her hopes for a new life are dashed when officials detain her sister, Magda, because she has lung disease. If she doesn’t mend in six months, she will be deported. Meanwhile, Ewa will need a lot of money to pay for her medical care.
Ewa’s relatives don’t show up to claim her and she is also detained. Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) is inexplicably on the scene and rescues her, promising her work sewing for his theater company.
That company turns out to be a girlie show at a local tavern; the ladies perform in public for male audiences and in private for the cops that turn a blind eye to liquor being sold there.
Before long Ewa agrees to see men privately because she has no other way to earn cash. She hates Bruno for his manipulative ways. His use of her as a money maker is at odds with his protective affection for her.
These characters fascinate in their uneasy relations with one another. Ewa survives by single-mindedness. She reconciles her repugnant actions with her goal to save Magda.
Bruno survives by using people. When feelings for Ewa compromise his moral flexibility, his mental balance is threatened too. By the time his cousin, Emil (Jeremy Renner), falls for the girl, tragedy is inevitable.
“The Immigrant” is relentlessly dark. Both purity and chicanery take shifting forms. The cinematography is its own lush character, conveying the despair of life in confined quarters with no promise of escape.