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Golden Door

4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

The poster for this moving and poetic Italian film about Sicilian immigrants coming to America at the turn of the twentieth century offers a glimpse of a sight that director Emanuele Crialese never shows us: the skyline of a nascent New York City. It was probably a financial decision as much as a creative one to detain us indoors – or, at least, on-deck – from the moment a packed and creaking ship slides away from the quay at Palermo until the film’s end in the detention centre on Ellis Island (actually filmed in an old hotel in Buenos Aires). Nevertheless, this hermetic approach proves particularly powerful when a group of Italian men awaiting approval from US immigration clamber on to a window-sill and peer across the Hudson, describing their view of huge ‘church towers’ in the distance. We share their sense of wonder, but the view of the city’s skyscrapers is all theirs to enjoy.

But it’s our turn to feel displaced first as the film opens in Sicily and peasants Salvatore (Vincenzo Amato) and his young son Angelo Mancuso (Francesco Casisa) climb a barren, cloud-hugged hill, each with a stone clasped between his jaws, to consult a weather-beaten crucifix as to whether they should venture to the New World or not. It’s a mysterious scene, steeped in both historical and cultural distance, that’s graced with a striking, overhead approach to photography to which cinematographer Agnès Godard returns several times, not least for a fantastic shot of the ship leaving the dock in Sicily in an echo of the wider separation to come. By then, Salvatore and Angelo, along with Salvatore’s stubborn mother, Fortunata (Aurora Quattrocchi) and his mute other son, Pietro (Filippo Pucillo), have been persuaded to cross the Atlantic by the allure of trick photos of giant chickens and trees that grow money. On board, an attraction strikes up between Salvatore and Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a lone English-woman, whose reasons for joining the throng remain unclear.Crialese indulges the rituals and privations of migration, blending telling human detail with more impressionistic moments: Pietro bids farewell to a cow; the groan of the ship haunts the journey; and Salvatore dreams one night of floating in milk with Lucy and hanging on to a floating giant carrot, so conflating in a poetic vision two myths relating to life in the New World – that there are lakes of milk and that vegetables are big beyond belief.

The final scenes in Ellis Island – involving tests of intelligence and marriages of convenience – are superbly choreographed, and Crialese shows a deft ability to flit between the ensemble and the personal. The experience of the Mancuso family remains central, but the director never loses sight of the experience of an entire generation of his compatriots. His film stands as smart testimony to their journeys.

Release Details

  • Release date:Friday 29 June 2007
  • Duration:118 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Emanuele Crialese
  • Screenwriter:Emanuele Crialese
  • Cast:
    • Massimo Laguardia
    • Charlotte Gainsbourg
    • Vincent Sciavelli
    • Federica De Cola
    • Aurora Quattrocchi
    • Francesco Casisa
    • Isabella Ragonese
    • Filippo Pucillo
    • Vincenzo Amato
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