The beauty of the Miami International Film Festival is how it features plenty of up-and-coming filmmakers and short films, while at the same time sprinkling in the occasional big name or two.
Featured in the program this year is a film starring Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard, who are by no means up-and-comers.
With a title like The Immigrant, it was a bold move to screen in a city whose vibrancy comes from people who have emigrated from all parts of the world. But alas, The Immigrant did not tell the story of an average Latino coming to Miami, but instead it was the tale of a beautiful Polish girl coming to New York City in the 1920s.
Throughout the film there are plenty of obvious visual metaphors, starting with the opening scene of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island.
As Ewa (Cotillard) and her sister wait in line to be processed and officially enter America, their fantasies for a better future are interrupted when Ewa's sister gets pulled out of the line because of her cough. She is sick, and sick immigrants cannot enter America.
When Ewa advances and reaches her turn to get processed, she is denied entry. For someone who has just had her sister taken away from her and is now being told she cannot enter this new country, Cotillard handled the situation too well. In what should have been the strongest, most moving moment in this film about an immigrant, failed to properly move audiences.
If viewers had an emotional reaction to the moment Ewa was turned away, it was because of the camera panning and showing the unhappy and frightened faces of everyone around her. Those fleeting goosebumps do not return again at any other point in the movie.
Since Ewa is left with no options, when Bruno (Phoenix) comes along and offers her help, she takes it without question - because she's desperate, and anyone in her situation would be, too. At first, he offers her a job as a seamstress sewing costumes for his "girls" since he works at a theater. This lasts about 2.5 seconds before he tells her she can make more money dancing on stage with his girls, and then prostituting herself after shows.
It's all good. It's 1920 in New York City during prohibition, prostitutes were totally in and it was totally the in-thing to be a prostitute if you came here from a different country.
Although she carries herself to be a woman of God and so virtuous and pure, Ewa eventually gives in to prostitution because she loves money. "I like money," she says to Bruno, her pimp, "but I don't like you. I hate you, and I hate myself."
Both lead characters are set up to have layers upon layers of depth, yet, there is so much internal and external conflict paired with too many contradictions that it could make your head spin.
Coming off his success -- and quite fabulous performance -- in Her, one expected Phoenix to give another great performance, and it's also no secret that Cotillard has a hell of a range and talent. Unfortunately, both skilled thespians failed to give elevating performances.
The costumes and the sets were beautiful, and aside from the forced symbolism spread throughout the film, very little else was memorable.
The Immigrant is a film that set out to tell the story of "the unforgiving streets of 1920s New York, [where] a Polish immigrant falls into the cruel trap of prostitution set by a sleazy show-runner," according to the MIFF program. But in reality, it told a messy story about a pimp falling for his Polish prostitute and not getting any (now that's irony).
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Despite lacking the proper emotional pull, the film is still worth going to see if you are a fan of Phoenix, Cotillard, or just pretty 1920s movies.