The Golden Door

Director: Emanuele Crialese


An imaginative, intelligent and attractive Italian film precisely when the country needs it, Emanuele Crialese’s Golden Door represents a solid piece of cinema that neither panders nor preaches. Moving from rural Sicily to third-class steerage to Ellis Island, this tripartite tale of a family’s journey from the Old World to the New propels them from a superstitious past into a colder-eyed modernity.
The opening moments reaffirm Crialese’s affinity for landscape (he made Respiro). A barefoot Salvatore (Vincenzo Amato) and his older son Angelo (Francesco Casisa) scramble up a rocky mountainside with stones in their mouths as proof of their devotion to the wooden cross at the top. Set against this unforgiving topography, the two seem part of a primitive world where superstition controls daily actions. Against his mother’s wishes, Salvatore decides they must emigrate to America. Crialese details their first journey from village to city, which entails a monumental leap from the familiar, earthy world they know. Incongruously standing among them at the docks is Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg), dressed in bourgeois clothes and speaking English. Crialese leaves her background a mystery but makes it clear that she’s willing to use her feminine charms to get on that ship and get to America. For the immigrants, America was a land of miracles, and since Crialese stops the drama literally at the exit portals of Ellis Island, disillusionment never takes hold. Claire Denis’ regular cinematographer Agnes Godard does her usual splendid work in capturing the visual riches, from Sicilian landscapes to the corral-like bins of Ellis Island.—Jay Weissberg.

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