Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The New World

The Italian film Nuovomondo (English title: The Golden Door) follows an impoverished Italian family as they migrate to the United States at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. An English woman, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, attaches herself to the family (unmarried women were not allowed to sail unaccompanied).

Despite the poverty and crowding, the film is beautiful to look at. Women from all parts of the Old World, move in files, in their best and most beautiful traditional attire. 
In one scene a sea of people, filling the entire frame, unexpectedly and breathtakingly parts, and we realise that half of the crowd are on the deck of the ship moving irrevocably away, and the other half are being left behind on the quay. It's an incredibly powerful piece of cinematography.
Later, on Ellis Island, the women contemplate the new life they are about to enter, and the the film pauses to a still image, inviting viewers to witness the present moment of their own lives in a rite of passage. 
In one of the most moving scenes, the grandmother, who is denied entry for refusing to submit to an intelligence test, asks immigration officers: "Who are you to decide who enters the New World and who does not. Are you God?" She asks her sons and grandson to continue without her through the "Golden Door" into the land flowing with milk. The final scene, in which the immigrants literally swim through this milk, dissolves into magic realism.  
There is some nudity in this film, but it is not gratuitous since it shows the dehumanising effect of the physical and mental examinations immigrants were subjected to.
The film is a heart-felt testament to the pluck and initiative of all those torn from their homelands to join the great migrations throughout history. As the descendant of immigrants it struck a chord with me.

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