2007Director: Emanuele Crialese
Cast: Vincenzo Amato, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Aurora Quattrocchi
t’s a simple story. After all, what could be more straightforward than a family of immigrants on their way to America? From Sicily to Ellis Island, expect a good old dose of hardship and hope. Nonetheless, there’s something different about Golden Door. It’s probably the scenes where an army swims through an ocean of milk. Or the man-sized carrots.
A collection of (doctored) photographs has made its way to a provincial Italian village. America beckons; there, money grows on trees and chickens grow to the size of a Great Dane. One poor family (cornerstone father, feisty grandmother, Sufjan look-alike brother, and deaf/mute brother—good performances by all!) sets off for the United States, wearing the clothes of dead relatives and carrying centuries worth of superstition. The posse picks up an English lady along the way (Charlotte Gainsbourg), endures a hellish voyage, and winds its way through the bureaucratic maze of Ellis Island. There’s the plot in its entirety, yet Golden Door renders the familiar tale with unexpected flourishes.
Sometimes the movie is just bizarre, seeming more like a “Lost” episode than anything else. The opening scene, for instance, contrasts the exorcism of a huge black snake with a weird ritual involving men carrying rocks in their bloody mouths. Generally, however, the movie stands out in less obvious ways. Everything is slightly altered and subtly dreamlike, but for the most practical of reasons (such as the 2-3 second gap in comprehension as the Italians try to communicate with immigration officials). Odd fantasy sequences crop up without ever feeling out of place, and—by the end of the movie—the filmmakers weave a miracle quite naturally into the finale.
Perhaps Golden Door seems so organic because, for all its toe-dabbling in surrealism, the most indelible images are understated. Hard cold reality flashes by in a snap of the fingers. One horrifying scene—a baby’s death—is handled with no more than body language and a single line of dialogue. The opening scenes in Italy are set in a rock-strewn wasteland, where the houses are made from slightly organized piles of stone. The camera captures only shades of grey. Everything is so barren and realistic, in fact, that there’s no musical score—only the oppressively loud background buzz of feet striking stone. Even in this prosaic environment, Golden Door casts tiny little spells. The editing misses a beat; the sound goes slightly out of sync; the grey color palette produces extraordinary tricks of light. Despite the squalor, something playful and poetic gurgles beneath the surface.
Upon arriving in America, the camera never catches a glimpse of New York City. The original title of the movie (Nuovomondo, which translates to “new world”) is less geographically specific, keeping the focus on the newcomers and the culture they refuse to sacrifice. As memories of a fatal voyage and uncaring neighbors begin to fade, music slowly seeps back into the picture—first through Italian folk songs. By this point Golden Door has played its cards well enough, however, that if it wishes to indulge in a weird, hyper-American Nina Simone number, it can certainly afford to.
Golden Door is currently in limited release.