Saturday, June 30, 2007

GOLDEN DOOR/NUOVOMONDO - strange, beautiful, unique!

GOLDEN DOOR is one of those strange magical quiet films that you either take to your heart or find boring and pretentious. For my part, I was enchanted by something so magical and yet so authentic it feels like re-enacted social history.

GOLDEN DOOR opens in rural Sicily at the turn of the twentieth century. It is a country of superstition, mean understanding and deep poverty. Widower Salvatore Mancuso dreams of a land called Califormia where there are rivers of milk and the earth is so fertile that vegetables grow taller than men. So he sets off for America with his two sons, mother and two other girls from the village who will marry Italian-Americans and so gain their citizenship.

The small steps towards this goal make up the two hours of this film, and they are re-created in detail, with an observant glance that makes subtle judgements rather than large political points. The Mancuso family walk to the port-town from where they will sail to Ellis Island. They have scavenged shoes, suits and cloaks to make a good impression when they arrive. Before boarding they must pass medicals and have photographs taken - all strange and wondrous things. A well-dressed English lady, Lucy (Gainsbourg) attaches herself to the family and no-one has the confidence to ask why. A quack doctor tries to sell them medicine for the mute son.

The movie is about the strange bonds that form between the rural family and the well-dressed English woman. The grace of the movie is that it leaves almost everything unspoken and lives a little in the land of dreams. But the movie is also about the petty hurdles that these often illiterate people had to cross to enter into the New World. They are not simply tested for diseases but for being too "feeble-minded" to enter the USA.

But if you see this movie for no other reason, watch it for the beautiful production design by Carlos Conti and stunning use of the camera by DP Agnès Godard. The stand-out shot is an aerial view of the dock-side and the deck of the ship. At first it just looks like a single surface teeming with people. But as the boat pulls away, we see that they are split into voyagers and well-wishers.

The only flaw I can possibly think of is that some might object to the anachronistic use of Nina Simone in the score. (I embraced it!) But frankly, in a world of formulaic studio films, I'd rather directors were too daring and occasionally failed, rather than continually safe. Bravo, Emanuele Crialese!

GOLDEN DOOR/NUOVOMONDO played Venice and Toronto 2006. It opened in Italy in 2006 an din Poland, Sweden, France, Denmark, Belgium, Argentina, Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, the US, Greece and Hungary earlier in 2007. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in Finland on August 17th.

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