NYFF: ‘The Immigrant’ comes ashore, ‘Bastards’ gets bleak, and ‘Gloria’ amuses

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the-immigrantThe Immigrant (★★★)

The first film of the New York Film Festival that Clayton and I actually differ on (besides him falling for Captain Phillips a bit more than I did…we’re both in love with Inside Llewyn Davis though), James Gray‘s new film The Immigrant is, well…solid. It looks great, but the story itself could have used a bit more sprucing up. That’s not to say that the script that Gray co-wrote isn’t good, since it is, but his direction and the performances by Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix are simply better (Jeremy Renner too, to a lesser extent). There’s an Oscar worthy film somewhere in here, but the end result is simply a more than acceptable period piece. I adored Two Lovers, so this is a small step back for him, but it’s still among the better works of his career so far.

Unsurprisingly, this is an immigration tale. We start with a view of the Statue of Liberty before going over to Ellis Island where Ewa (Cotillard) and her sister are hoping to gain entrance to America. When the authorities detain her sister due to illness and Ewa herself is due to be sent back home for an issue on the boat over, she finds herself suddenly “rescued” by Bruno (Phoenix), a man who seems to know all the right people. He initially appears rather kind, but it’s not long before she comes to see the wickedness hiding just under his skin. Bruno is a pimp, one with designs on Ewa. She’s reluctant at first, though eventually gives in due to a need to earn money in order to help her sister. Life in Manhattan seems hopeless, though a meeting with a magician named Orlando (Renner) gives her at least a glimpse of a different future.

Marion Cotillard and James Gray’s direction are the stars of this film. Cotillard is excellent here, doing a lot of acting with her eyes, while Gray seems right at home in his first period piece. Whereas his script (co-written by Ric Menello) sometimes isn’t as on target with this first female-centric film of his, his direction is downright beautiful. Joaquin Phoenix has long been a steady collaborator of his, and this performance, while not as terrific as his one in Two Lovers, is nice and showy for sure. While Jeremy Renner does a solid job, I found it a little hard to buy him in the period setting. That’s just me though, as the work is far from bad.

Overall, The Immigrant is not an awards contender at all (in fact, I believe it’s not even coming out until 2014 anyway) like I once thought it to be, but it is a nice little movie that’s well worth seeing. As long as you don’t have overly high expectations, you should enjoy it. I’ll have more to say about it when it comes closer to a release, but my thumb is definitely up here.

bastards_01Bastards (★★)

I’m not a huge Claire Denis fan, or honestly too knowledgable about her work on the whole, so I went into Bastards not sure what to expect. Apparently her long standing fans aren’t sure either, as the film has divided audiences so far on the festival circuit. What for some I’m sure is haunting and powerful for me was simply too clinical and cold. I recognized that the material was dark and disturbing, but it never made an emotional impact on me. Denis kept me at arm’s length the whole time, so embracing this work at the New York Film Festival was never really going to be possible.

The plot centers on how perversion destroys lives, though it does so in a far more confusing and puzzle like way than necessary. We begin by seeing an ambulance taking away a body from a Paris apartment block before cutting to a naked and bleeding teenage girl wandering the streets in a daze. The body is a suicide victim, one whose family we then spend time with, from the sexually damaged daughter Justine (Lola Creton), to the angry wife Sandra (Julie Bataille), to the vengeful brother in law Marco (Vincent Lindon). Marco believes that shady businessman Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor) is the cause of the suicide, so he sets about to ruin his life, using sex as a tool. I won’t say too more, but Denis sure takes her sweet time putting the pieces together.

I thought the entire cast did solid work and the visuals from Denis were solid, but the story itself was kind of trashy in the end. She does redeem herself a bit with the final scene in the film, but it’s too late by then. I’m sure some of you will find a lot to grab on to with Bastards, but for me, I just didn’t see the fuss during this NYFF screening…

gloria_a_lGloria (★★★)

A lot of folks have tipped Gloria as a Best Foreign Language Feature nominee. Yes, Chile is submitting it, but I’m not sure it can go all the way. This charming dramedy could please coters enough for a nod, but a win is pushing it. Sure, Paulina García is terrific in the title role, but co-writer/director Sebastián Lelio is essentially just doing a character study here, and Oscar doesn’t tend to smile upon foreign flicks of that ilk. I could be wrong, and I sort of hope that I am, but I think we’ll have to look elsewhere for a winner. I did enjoy seeing it though here at the New York Film Festival.

For Gloria (García), going out to a club is a bit of a routine for the free spirited woman. Middle aged and not classically beautiful, she still seems to attract a certain kind of man. One night, she strikes up a connection with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a divorced retiree. What begins as a one night stand slowly shows signs of potentially becoming a relationship, but it always seems to be stop and go with them. They both have grown children, but Gloria can integrate them all together in a way that he can’t. It then sort of becomes a countdown until something gives between the two of them.

Personally, this is pretty much all about García’s work here. Sure, Hernández is solid and Lelio’s work behind the scenes is high quality, but watching García make you care for this simple individual is the true highlight. Gloria is an enjoyable NYFF title, but it wouldn’t be quite the same without her in the title role. I hope we see a lot more from her soon.

By the by, as you read this Clayton and myself will be among the very first to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, so stay tuned for our reactions and continuing coverage of the New York Film Festival…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!