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THE GOLDEN DOOR

Director: EMANUELE CRIALESE

ITALY-FRANCE • 2006 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC• DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 117 MIN.


THE ARDUOUS ODYSSEY OF ITALIAN IMMIGRANTS BOUND FOR AMERICA AT THE START OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY BECOMES A SPELLBINDING JOURNEY OF THE IMAGINATION THROUGH THE POETIC VISION OF WRITER-DIRECTOR EMANUELE CRIALESE.
Not the least of The Golden Door’s achievements is the concise way it transports us back to rugged rural Sicily, where peasant Vincenzo Amato is completely taken in by fake photos of the New World showing trees laden with money. Soon he’s on a ship with his two sons and his imperious mother, packed like sardines with his fellow countrymen into third-class bunks well below decks.
Joining him is an enigmatic Englishwoman (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin’s daughter), for whom the privations of the Atlantic passage are just the start of her problems, since US policy is not to admit single women, and there are sundry predatory single males on board waiting to take advantage.
Brilliantly shot by Claire Denis’ regular cinematographer Agnes Godard, with a rich palette of steely greys, the images of the ship pulling away from shore have the gravitas of entire continents drifting apart. In time, these illiterate but proud country folk are to have their fantasies of the paradise awaiting them shattered on arrival at Ellis Island, where they’re prodded and assessed to see if they meet exacting American standards—in a powerful sequence which surely has a resonance for today’s migrant experiences. Not since the heyday of Fellini has an Italian film-maker fused grim reality and the landscape of dreams with the sort of visionary confidence displayed here: the result is surely among this year’s most memorable films. — Trevor Johnston.

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