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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'The Immigrant': A Heartfelt Tale of an Innocent Immigrant Woman Tricked into a Life of Servitude

Movie poster for the film The Immigrant starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner

Set in New York City in 1921, “The Immigrant” (2013) is an enthralling period piece about a young Polish woman, Ewa (Marion Cotillard), arriving to Ellis Island with her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan), only to see Magda quarantined for health concerns—leaving Ewa to fend for herself on the streets of the Lower East Side. Desperate to earn the funds necessary to liberate Magda, Ewa in coerced into prostitution by Bruno, a devilish theater owner and pimp played by Joaquin Phoenix.

In her role as the naive yet steadfast Ewa, Cotillard delivers an awards-worthy performance as she ekes out the helplessness and distraught confusion of the titular young immigrant. Desperate and forlorn, she ultimately finds herself caught up in complex relationships with both Bruno and his dashing cousin, Orlando the Magician (Jeremy Renner) as she strives to rescue her sister from Ellis Island’s hospital purgatory.

"The Immigrant" is a tale about adversity, compromise and ultimately some degree of reclamation that simultaneously serves as a true-to-life illustration of the trials and hard-won freedoms realized by so many a century ago. Cotillard depicts a young woman who experiences a profound struggle in order to pursue that freedom and opportunity, despite the brutal travails she endures.

The conclusion to writer/director James Gray’s succession of intimate, New York-based human dramas (following Little Odessa The Yards, We Own the Night and Two Lovers), “The Immigrant” was a major step forward for the talented auteur in terms of scope and production value (he would go on to helm the stunningly assured period adventure story The Lost City of Z in 2016). “The Immigrant”, by its own right, is a major accomplishment from the talented auteur and a tremendous example of heartfelt and empathetic historical storytelling.


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