Two men walk barefoot over endless rocky mountains. An old woman heals the sick by handling snakes. Various peasants lead livestock out of stone houses or haul bundles of sticks across an unforgiving rough terrain. They all fawn over novelty pictures of a tree with oversize gold coins hanging from its branches, emblems of the New World that these Italian citizens will cross an ocean to get to.
Emanuele Crialese’s drama is so devoted to realistically rendering the first-generation immigrant’s journey that you’d swear you’d entered a time warp. Not just to the early 20th century, either: Between the stunning natural-light cinematography (shot by Claire Denis’s longtime collaborator Agns Godard), the rural Mediterranean territory favored by the Taviani brothers, and star Vincenzo Amato’s resemblance to Giancarlo Giannini, it’s as if you were watching a foreign film circa 1977.
Which only makes Golden Door’s horrific last third especially galling. Not even the radiant Charlotte Gainsbourg can save it from some WTF? directorial choices: Why spend so much effort to capture the period, only to completely screw the pooch by dropping in anachronistic Nina Simone tunes? And can someone please call for a moratorium on gratuitous magical realism? (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear