06 September, 2008

Nuovomondo (Golden Door) (2006)

Looking for America

Writer-director Emanuele Crialese (Respiro (2002), Once We Were Strangers (1997)) sets his tale of immigrants' dreams in Sicily at the beginning of the 20th century - the (at times brutal) immigrant experience is portrayed, stretching from a dirt-poor Sicilian hamlet to Ellis Island, the 'Golden Door' to the United States.

Salvatore (Vincenzo Amato), an illiterate and very poor widower-farmer, believes the pictures he has seen, depicting America as the land of milk and honey, where money grows on trees and fruits/vegetables/animals grow to an enormous size.

Salvatore sells his land, his home and his livestock and sets off for America with his two sons (one a deaf mute), daughters (who were locked into arranged marriages) and his cantankerous old mother.

During the shenanigans and corruption of the boarding process (with a four-week voyage in steerage ahead of them), Salvatore meets Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a mysterious Englishwoman who seems incongruous among the Italian bumpkins.

Once on-board ship, the women and men are split up and forced to sleep head to toe in iron cots, as the rusting, dangerous hulk of a ship rolls makes its slow, painful progress towards New York and whatever dreams may come...

Though it's clear that Nuovomondo was shot on a limited budget, Crialese's skillful direction, coupled with clever cinematography from Agnès Godard, convey the immigrant ordeal in often harrowing, disturbing detail, but lifted by the sense of hope that is the voyagers' only solace - as in the key scene where Salvatore describes the towering skyscrapers of New York to his awe-struck fellow travellers.

The only false note is sounded in the surreal 'visions' experienced by Salvatore as he dreams of America - an approach that seems distinctly at odds with the gritty realism that is to follow. Nevertheless, a moving and enjoyable look at the lengths people are/were prepared to go to in order to follow their dreams.

Awards: Nominated for Best Director (Emanuele Crialese), European Film Awards 2006.

In Italian and English. 118 mins.

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