There is romance when they notice you. You are standing in a crowd, you are female, yet you are poor and strange, not of this place. Are you going to find work, will you be accepted into a community, can you communicate well? More importantly, will you be someone of worth?
In other words, will you be not nothing?
Ewa (Marion Cotillard) is transcendent playing a woman desperate to transcend.
She needs rescuing because she has been victimized by being a woman, disadvantaged by being dependent on men to be saved from deportation and to make money to survive. Her choices are divided but her claim is singular: that she lives to make money to bring her sister home from the Ellis Island hospital.
The methods are twofold: be a "moral" woman who saves money slowly, sewing, legally earning money. She could be saved if a man would find her and love her and choose to marry her. Someone mentions that maybe she'll get married and have children, and one can nearly see the birds dancing around Ewa's head as her eyes glow, her secret revealed.
The second method is less legal, yet more direct. A dancing girl, a working girl, is just as eager to lure that male attention, except one is focusing on multiple men instead of a lone husband.
Bruno finds Ewa and she is given both options, two methods to choose from. She chooses, yet she changes her mind. Does she do so because she repents? Or is that she is simply walking down the second avenue...
Ewa recommits to Bruno, to their partnership and their livelihood. She again dances with the devil, or is he son of God? He is a relative to Bruno, the same man perhaps, but he would be the husband, the alternative choice.
The choices are never entirely clear. Bruno is sure that this is not the moral highroad, or even a smart decision, or that his cousin is even a decent or loving person. Ewa waivers as well. Is her intense declaration not to be nothing a revealing statement about needing to be valuable? And is commanding financial value what her purpose eventually becomes?
Desire is muddled, but morality is even murkier.
The american dream is dirty and religious salvation is a lie. The true nature of Ewa's goals elude us every moment. But Ewa is still treated, filmically, as a religious figure. She prays not to God but to the "Mother of God". Even as Ewa's descends into transgression, she is lit and captured on film as a glowing figure. Complicating the religious imagery is a parallel series of images: Ewa's thin and heart shaped jawline, glowing eyes, and her awkward deer like gaze into an audience of men. She is seen as both a martyr and as a marvelously sexy woman aware and distracted by men looking at her.
And what has more value than for a woman to be chosen, to be singled out by a man. There is an entire city of women, or at least an island with ships full of them, all strange and foreign, all oppressed and in need. Some special women will be seen for who they are. Is it their soul or their moral fiber that speaks to the man who finally sees and recognizes value in her? Or is it that her need to be seen bends a moral code to fit the circumstances of her life.
THE IMMIGRANT is an intimate and straight story as much as it is a story about the many shades of grey that complicate a woman's goals, heart and place in the world.
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