|© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
If only Terence Malick hadn’t already used the
title THE NEW WORLD, since that is the direct
translation of NUOVOMONDO, which is being
called THE GOLDEN DOOR for its American
Award derby for Best Foreign Language Film,
this charming movie had its champions but it
failed to make the cut for the prize, probably
because last year was one of the strongest
fields in years.
Writer-director Emanuele Crialese once again
teams with leading man Vincenzo Amato (the
pair previously collaborated on RESPIRO) for
this stylish small-scale epic. GOLDEN DOOR
can more or less falls neatly into three parts:
a Sicilian family decides to emigrate to the
United States; the long voyage across the
Atlantic in cramped quarters, and the arrival and
processing at Ellis Island.
Amato portrays the patriarch, Salvatore
Mancuso, an illiterate man first seen climbing a
granite-strewn hill with a piece of rock in his
mouth as a pilgrimage to a saint. Upon arrival
at the apex, Salvatore looks for and receives a
sign that he is certain indicates he and his
family are to undertake the journey. Those who
will accompany him are his two sons Angelo and
the mute Pietro (portrayed respectively by
Francesco Casisa and Filippo Pucillo, who also
were cast as Amato's offspring in Crailese’s film
RESPIRO) and his aged mother Fortunata
(Aurora Quattrocchi), who is even more
superstitious than Salvatore. They agree to
escort a pair of local girls (Federica De Cola and
Isabelle Ragonese) who have agreed to be mail-
Before boarding the ship on the journey to their
new life, the family finds that a mysterious
Englishwoman named Lucy Reed (Charlotte
Gainsbourg) has attached herself to their party.
Her exact motivations are never made entirely
clear but she is the subject of much gossip and
speculation on board the vessel. She is
approached by Don Luigi (the late Vincent
Schiavelli in one of his last roles) who offers to
broker a marriage deal for her. Despite the many
temptations, she has set her sights on
Salvatore and eventually the pair agree to marry
once they arrive in America.
The final section of the film details the
experience of the arrivals at Ellis Island -- the
various psychological and physical tests that
each person undergoes so that someone can
decide who stays and who goes. There is also
the matter of the arranged marriages --
Salvatore is unaware of what he is supposed to
do and Lucy almost loses her opportunity but
manages to convince the judge at the last
There’s a certain remoteness to the story that
might keep some members of the audience at
bay. Yet GOLDEN DOOR has some fascinating
sight gags that owe a debt to Fellini (like
oversize vegetables floating in a river of milk).
Agnès Godard's gorgeous, painterly
cinematography adds immensely to the film.
Crialese's direction is masterful and subtle.
Obviously shot on a tight budget, he manages
to invoke the cramped feelings of travel in a
manner that invokes Steiglitz's famous
photograph "Steerage." Also, instead of the
cliched image of the masses of immigrants
viewing the Statue of Liberty upon their arrival
in New York harbor, Crialese wittily drapes their
first view of their new home in dense fog.
At a time when Congress and others are
debating the issue of immigration, this film
arrives in theaters to remind us all that the
majority of us came from somewhere else,
arriving with hopes and dreams. The streets
may not have been paved with gold, money may
not grow on trees and chickens are not the size
of buildings, but America has remained the land
of opportunity. One can arrive here and make a
fresh start. GOLDEN DOOR may not be a
masterpiece but it is a very good film and one
worth seeking out.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief graphic
Running time: 120 mins.
|Salvatore, Filippo Pucillo as Pietro, Aurora Quattrocchi as
GOLDEN DOOR (NUOVOMONDO)
Photo credit: Courtesy of Miramax Films.