MARION COTILLARD JOAQUIN PHOENIX JEREMY RENNER
What happens when a passionate director and the distributor that buys the film get into a bitter disagreement on how to release the film and the final cut? A film you probably didn’t even know existed, which was dumped back in the spring, now having no Oscar campaign but receiving kudos from the Independent Spirit Awards and the NYFCC. Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) is having a good year for performances from The Immigrant and the Belgium Oscar entry Two Days One Night. Besides having a surprising day of winning best actress and cinematography from the New York critics, this passion project from director James Gray doesn’t look to factor into the awards race.
Immigrating from Poland, Ewa Cybulska (Cotillard) and her sister Magda arrive at Ellis Island after a long journey only to find their Aunt and Uncle not waiting for them. Magda is sent to the infirmary due to a cough and Ewa is told by the immigration officer that, due to an incident on the ship she is being deported back. In complete desperation Ewa trusts a man named Bruno (Phoenix), who offers help with processing her papers, room/board and a job. Determined to pay her sister's medical bills, Ewa must work in Bruno’s vaudeville theatre club and give herself to men to make money.
Gray’s script presents 1921 New York as the dirty, disgusting and desperate place it was. Horrible conditions forced people to do things they otherwise would never think of to survive. It isn’t a story unfamiliar to audiences. Gray admits that after having an argument with Cotillard at a party years prior, he wrote the script specifically for her. Her character here isn’t unlike the modern day woman she portrays in Two Days One Night; both are dependent on others, specifically males, to survive. Honestly, both films have strengths in different areas. The Immigrant is far more compelling than just watching a woman walk door to door. However, The Immigrant doesn’t have the social narrative on society that Two Days One Night examines.
So which film is Cotillard going to get nominated for? Neither, honestly. Despite being an incredibly weak year for female performances – based on the ones they are actually willing to consider – Cotillard will likely once again be snubbed. Gray’s film is still worth seeing for her performance and that of Phoenix, who is far better here than in Inherent Vice. Jeremy Renner, while entertaining to the plot, seems miscast, and his magician character is the film's weakest link. It’s too bad that Gray and Harvey Wienstien couldn’t work together, because this could have been something really substantial.
Final Thought – A sad story about having to sin to survive in the 1920’s.
By: Dustin Chase