The American Dream, á la Fellini
by Camillo de Marco
- After his hit title Respiro, Emanuele Crialese has made Golden Door, an epic adventure on immigration in America
After the successful Respiro: Grazia’s Island [+see also:
film profile], Golden Door [+see also:
interview: Alexandre Mallet-Guy
interview: Charlotte Gainsbourg
interview: Emanuele Crialese
interview: Emanuele Crialese
interview: Fabrizio Mosca
film profile] is the the third by Emanuele Crialese.
"I felt encouraged by the audience," said the director, "but I didn’t want to repeat myself with something that resembled Respiro, it seemed like that would have been a betrayal. I ventured out into a dream, into dreamlike images, keeping in mind the master, Federico Fellini".
The Sicilian family’s journey to America at the turn of the 20th century is magnificently photographed by Agnès Godard and magnificently performed by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Vincenzo Amato.
Cineuropa: What was the initial idea?
Emanuele Crialese: The film came about from a visit to the museum on Ellis Island. The immigrants’ gazes were stunned as they looked into the lens, as if they’d just landed on the moon. This film was not a political or social choice. It came about solely from those gazes.
You nevertheless studied the history of Ellis Island extensively before shooting the film. What was the basis for the screenplay?
I was guided in this adventure by the words on paper, the letters sent to relatives who stayed at home. They were dictated because the majority of the immigrants were illiterate. I read hundreds of them, trying to identify [with them] and find the identity of those people from another time, who always found the positive side to things, despite the bleakest misery.
Was it difficult to find a new approach for retelling this piece of history?
My most important point of reference was Elia Kazan’s America, America. But I distanced myself from that film because he was overly exultant towards America in his depiction of immigration. I wanted to capture something that is the result of the collective imagination.
How did you create the Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character?
Lucy, who by Italians will forever be called Signorina Luce, is a woman of the New World, a modern woman who lives her solitude, enshrouded in mystery. She is like an idea, another one of the main character Salvatore’s dreams. They are the old and new world coming up against each other. I wanted the actress to come from another culture so that I would be forced to find a universal language. Charlotte is still a mystery to me, she is very discreet and reserved.
The scene of the ship’s departure is particularly powerful.
That was one of the first scenes I designed on the storyboard, and it was the one that came easiest when we shot. It was actually shot in the port of Buenos Aires. I used local extras, they were all children of immigrants who knew their family histories perfectly. This is why there were some very emotional moments, which literally hypnotised and pushed me to seek out the truth to what I was filming.
Costumes are very important in a film such as this one, and in The Golden Door they seem to have a life of their own.
I discussed them a lot with Mariano Tufano, who is a wonderful costume designer. I wanted patched up and mended clothing, he understood and we immediately found the solutions.
It was very brave of you to use a heavy Sicilian dialect.
Sometimes sounds are more important than images. The dialects have a great emotional intensity that Italian does not. It is a wealth that should be spread as much as possible. RAI Cinema allowed me to subtitle certain lines that are particularly difficult to understand.
The subject of immigration is dramatically topical. Does your film have a message to send out?
I can’t send out messages, only questions. These people depart, leaving behind their own culture, in the hopes of a new life and work. Italians have been the majority of immigrants around the world – 20 million people. We have integrated, we have maintained our cultural identity and we’re known as hard workers. The only message I have is do not forget that these are just desperate people who want to work.
(Translated from Italian)