The Golden Door

Director: Emanuele Crialese

In honor of the ancestors who had come to America before me (including some from Italy), I opted to see Emanuele Crialese’s Venice Film Festival award winning film about Sicilian immigrants making the long voyage to America at the beginning of the twentieth century on the 4th of July. Presented by Martin Scorsese, the film which admittedly begins slowly and with a rather unorthodox opening sequence that did have a few viewers squirming in their seats becomes far more gripping when our main characters are introduced and board the overcrowded ship to the new world, where they’ve heard that money rains from the sky and the seas are bountiful with milk. An excellent, understated Vincenzo Amato stars as Salvatore Mancuso, who along with his headstrong mother Fortunata (a scene stealing Aurora Quattrochi) and his two sons (Francesco Casisa and Filippo Pucillo) decide to leave their homeland only to be quickly befriended by Lucy Reed (Charlotte Gainsbourg) a down-on-her-luck Englishwoman who tags along with the Mancuso family only to later propose marriage to Salvatore in order to gain entry to America. Her story is a bit puzzling and vague—we’re left to our own deductions trying to ascertain what an Englishwoman is doing traveling from Sicily but it quickly becomes apparent that it may indeed not be her first attempt to get past Ellis Island and into America. While the film’s beauty, which recalls Malick’s Days of Heaven and some of the Sicilian scenes from Coppola’s Godfather Part II, dazzles the senses, there are a few drawbacks to the work as a whole including the decision by the director to utilize some modern music completely out of the blue and go into avant-garde dream/fantasy sequences which pull the viewer out of the story and call too much attention to themselves, making parts of the movie feel pretentious instead of natural. Overall, it’s a wonderful work that goes into greater detail regarding the harrowing struggle it was for our European ancestors to arrive in this country including not only a challenging, long and uncomfortable sea voyage but also the intrusive and overwhelming amount of both physical and mental tests they had to undergo on Ellis Island. The film would make excellent viewing in teaching history students about the immigration issue and indeed its debut here in America could not be timelier as we watch the events of the past including the dangers and discrimination begin to repeat themselves one more time with the hot button issue that seems to be a leading story on every night’s evening news, that of immigration.