In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Flights of fancy don’t always mix well with grimey realism, but the greatest joy of Golden Door comes with watching those two usually opposing tones mesh seamlessly.”
The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“I want to see the new land too.”
From movies like The Godfather Part II, to In America, to hundreds of others in between, the immigrant experience, the dream of making a new life in the new world of America, has always been a great vehicle for storytelling. Whether the characters are escaping oppression or poverty, or simply chasing the promise of a fresh start, the juxtaposition of the exhausted old, versus the limitless new, pretty much always makes for an interesting movie. But now, I’ve seen a new take on this general story. Golden Door gives a little setup of why its characters are leaving the old. It ends with a small snippet of what life may be like in the new. But the vast majority of Golden Door is about the in between, the journey.
In the early 1900s, after the death of his wife, Salvatore (Vincenzo Amato) decides it’s time to leave Sicily and start afresh in America. With his elderly mother (Aurora Quattrocchi as Fortuna), healthy adult son Angelo (Francesco Casisia) and younger, mute son Pietro (Filippo Pucillo), Salvatore sets sail for America. His nights are filled with dreams of a land where people swim in milk, giant vegetables are grown and money literally rains from the sky, while the rest of his family isn’t quiet as optimistic.
Aboard the ship, they meet English woman Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg). While many of the men on board find her exotic and attractive, she notices Salvatore. Even choosing him for a marriage of convenience that will help her entry into America when they arrive at Ellis Island. While Salvatore has genuine feelings for Lucy, he realises their marriage is simply a business arrangement for her, but agrees to it anyway.
Flights of fancy don’t always mix well with grimey realism, but the greatest joy of Golden Door comes with watching those two usually opposing tones mesh seamlessly. From the poverty and futureless life of Salvatore’s family in Sicily, to the vividly filmed dreams of giant produce and milk baths, the grit and fantastical always work to highlight each other, never clashing or crashing like they so easily could.
Story and theme wise, there’s nothing new in Golden Door. A character like Salvatore risking it all for the good of his family is something that has been done countless times in movies, and will be done countless time again. What makes this work anyway, all comes down to performance. And while everyone delivers here, there are two characters, mainly on the sidelines, who are really responsible for the heart and soul of Golden Door. Aurora Quattrocchi as the ancient matriarch, trying to go along with her son’s ambitions, even though she knows she’ll most likely not live long enough to see them come to fruition. And Filippo Pucillo as the mute son who conveys more with his eyes and facial expressions than the rest of the cast’s dialogue combined. The movie would be good without them, but these two are the main reason it’s great.