Last night, I saw Golden Door (Nuovomondo), an Italian film that tells the story of how a Sicilian family and, um, Charlotte Gainsbourg migrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century.
Ok, I made the plot sound a little dumb there. Gainsbourg plays Lucy Reed (A.O. Scott’s New York Times review inexplicably calls her Lucy Peters1), a refined, redheaded Englishwoman who somehow finds herself needing to immigrate to America. How she got to this point in her life, and to Italy, is never really explained, and she’s so “foreign” to the rest of the film that I kept thinking things like, “hey, it’s that Charlotte Gainsbourg again!” But I suppose that was part of the point. Lucy doesn’t belong.
She attaches herself to the Mancuso family, a poor, Sicilian family led by Fortunata Mancuso (Aurora Quattrocchi) and her widower-son Salvatore, played wonderfully by Vincenzo Amato. The Mancusos are from humble surroundings, and they’re simple folk. But Salvatore, in particular, rises to the challenge of the adventure, and he eventually comes across as strong and brave. Lucy notices him, and, well, she needs a husband if she’s going to be admitted to the United States. That’s not really a spoiler, by the way, as the film is up front and frank about that. And about the unlikelihood that Lucy and Salvatore are in love. But might there be love someday? That’s something the film invites you to consider.
Actually, Golden Door is not particularly plot-driven. It’s so meditative that I occasionally found it plodding. When the camera lingers on the indignities of transAtlantic travel or the humiliations forced on the immigrants at Ellis Island, though, the quiet slowness works. At the beginning of the film, though, when Salvatore is contemplating his journey, I found the pace to be a little bit maddening. I wasn’t altogether sure what was happening, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
Director Emanuele Crialese uses elements of fantasy in Golden Door. There’s a mammoth-sized carrot, symbolizing the prosperity of the New World, that pops up more than once. Lucy and Salvatore also find themselves swimming in a river of milk from time to time. I wasn’t particularly fond of these moments, finding them jarring, but I did come to grudgingly accept their place in Crialese’s vision.
The best thing about Golden Door is the handsome Amato. You can’t help but watch him. As the Mancusos approach America, he visibly grows in stature—particularly as he becomes Lucy’s protector. In his review for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Steven Rea describes Amato as “alternately wide-eyed and wily, [having] the screen presence of a true star.” I couldn’t agree more. I want to see more.
I liked Golden Door. It didn’t change my world, and I doubt very much that it’ll change yours. But I can recommend it. On a four-star scale, I’d give it two-and-a-half or, more likely, three stars.
1IMDb agrees with me. Scott’s review also describes Pietro as Salvatore’s brother. That was my understanding. My newspaper’s reviewer, Steven Rea, thinks Pietro was Salvatore’s son. I should obviously be someone’s, perhaps more than one someone’s, fact-checker.