In what was my final full day at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, I was up early for the hotly anticipated James Gray period drama, The Immigrant.
Upon arriving at the shores of Manhattan in the 1920’s, Polish immigrant Ewa, played by Marion Cotillard, is separated from her sister, Magda, who has fallen ill. Finding herself without hope of entry due to an Uncle who has turned his back on her and an “incident” that took place enroute, Ewa finds herself in the hands of Bruno, played by Joaquin Phoenix. He’s an immigration worker by day, theater manager and pimp by night. Determined to be reunited with her sister, Ewa seeks to earn the money she needs to pay for her release.
Dawdling along at a rate of knots not too dissimilar to the speed at which I ascend the four flights of stairs to reach my apartment, Ewa encounters Orlando, played by Jeremy Renner, a charming magician who becomes fond of our lead and, it turns out, is also related to Bruno.
While clearly suffering from his own issues we never really get to explore Orlando’s past, leaving him as the “good guy” of the piece which, perhaps unintentionally, puts a significant dampener on the unfolding drama in the concluding hour of the movie.
Joaquin Phoenix plays the increasingly unstable Bruno with relative ease, only once having to break out into anything of a performance. His delivery is also, at times, somewhat muffled which felt both unnecessary and distracting. But it is Cotillard’s shoulders upon which the movie either fails or succeeds.
And for me, the performance simply misses the mark. Ewa spends much of the movie clenching her face attempting, but largely failing, to evoke any kind of genuine emotion. Neither the script nor the delivery offered anything that so much as left a lump in your throat, let alone the gut-wrenching reaction that it should have offered given the circumstances.
In amongst this sea of mediocrity there are some moments of fine film-making. The attention to detail is meticulous and offer an impressive setting, while Chris Spelman’s score has been artfully put together and offers some class to proceedings.
But ultimately both our key protagonists and the supporting cast never really manage to convey the true seediness and hardship that the story itself demanded.
Like much of what has screened at Cannes this and every other year, the movie will divide opinion. For the first half hour, I was hooked, but this only made the closing hour all the more disappointing.
Even in its supposed moving conclusion, The Immigrant fails to truly hit home at any of the senses, other than those which are seeking out the nearest exit.
On Thursday I took time out from the Festival to visit Monaco, just a short one-hour train ride from Cannes. Having spent much of the last week searching for the cheapest beer, I think yesterday I actually succeeded in finding the most expensive at 9 euros for what can’t have been much more than 400ml. But this is the price you pay for a drink in what has to be one of the most ostentatious places anyone will ever visit, with streets lined not by Volvos and Fords, but with Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Bentleys – convertible ones, no less.