1921. In search of a new start and the American dream, Ewa Cybulski and her sister sail to New York from their native Poland. When they reach Ellis Island, doctors discover that Magda is ill, and the two women are separated. Ewa is released onto the mean streets of Manhattan while her sister is quarantined. Alone, with nowhere to turn and desperate to reunite with Magda, Ewa quickly falls prey to Bruno, a charming but wicked man who takes her in and forces her into prostitution.
The arrival of Orlando – a dashing stage magician who is also Bruno’s cousin – restores her self-belief and hopes for a brighter future, but she has not reckoned with Bruno’s jealousy.
Interview with Director James Gray-
The big difference between your russian Jewish family and Ewa – The ImmIgrant – is that she is a Polish catholic. Why did you make that change?
“I did that for many reasons. First of all, I wanted Ewa to be out of place, even in the Lower East Side, where everyone was a Jewish immigrant. I didn’t want her to fit in, not even in that way. And then there was the fact that the story is about the idea that no one is so low or awful as to be forgotten or hated. No matter how bad, I believe that everybody is worth examining. And that is a very Franciscan idea. I thought of Robert Bresson and DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST, particularly for the confession scene. I wanted something austere and mythic. But the film was never meant only to be an homage to Bresson. It was also partly inspired by the traditions of opera and melodrama. Through outsized emotions and dramatic situations, there is a greater truth if you will. This is why the film is scored with Puccini, Gounod and Wagner.”
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼This is also why – for the first time in your career – you built your story around a female protagonist?
“I had been very interested by an operetta by Puccini called SUOR ANGELICA. It focuses on a woman who is a nun and it’s pure melodrama, an outsized dramatic situation that has the courage of its emotions. When done right, melodrama is the most beautiful thing because nothing is fake – the artist, when making the work, believed completely in the truth of the emotion. I saw this Puccini operetta in Los Angeles, it was directed by William Friedkin. I was in tears at the end. I really tried to push THE IMMIGRANT in this direction. And having a female protagonist enabled me to explore grand emotions without the macho component that’s part of the male persona in Western culture. Ewa is both in control of her own destiny and a victim. She feels guilty about her own sins, perceived or real. She has a lot of strength.”
Segment Journalist: Azia Celestino, Twitter @AziaJCelestino