Golden Door: Familiar Immigrant Saga Is Pretty, and Pretty Dull

Emanuele Crialese's depiction of dirt-poor Sicilian immigrants bound for Ellis Island deliberately restricts itself to the perspective of these bewildered peasants. Illiterate, ignorant, and thoroughly decent, of course they believe rivers of milk flow in America, that streets are paved with gold, that carrots grow eight feet long, and coins hang from trees. They have proof! Postcards! And pictures never lie, right? Set circa 1910, Golden Door relates a familiar story, too familiar, and there's very little Crialese (Respiro) can add other than the fantastic dreams of the Mancuso family. Coins do rain down, rivers do flow with milk—at least in their imagination. In reality, it's all hardship and humiliation, though Crialese treats even that rather gently. Golden Door works best in its strange specifics—women in steerage combing one another's hair as if in a conga line; men carrying stones in their mouths to a rocky hilltop shrine; and the villagers dressed for a journey in the clothes of the deceased. "Our dead will travel with you," explains the mayor, and the movie sometimes achieves the same haunting effect.

 
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