The Golden Door is funny, moving and gorgeously photographed with a moral anger burning at its heart.
With fairy tale designs on a land in which carrots grow to the size of small children and the trees bear banknotes from their branches, Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato) decides that now is the time to escape from his hovel in rural Sicily and make for this strange new world.
With two brothers and his elderly mother in tow, he embarks on a perilous journey across stormy seas only to be met with a mixture of disdain and derision upon reaching their final destination: America.
The Golden Door is the third feature from Italian director Emanuele Crialese, and though its story comprises a relatively narrow slice of recent social history, its true intention is to explore one of the broadest human-interest themes imaginable: the birth of civilisation.
If the first half of the film presents a society whose principles are based on magic, suspicion and a skewed form of earthy logic, it is only to emphasise the prejudices inherent in American notions of cultural imperialism.
The film’s conclusion is set in a house of social assimilation where prospective citizens are subjected to a series of Darwinian tests in order for officials who drop racial purity soundbites that prefigure Mein Kampf to be sure that those who finally reach the mythical 'Golden Door' will be of sound stock.
"You are seeds to be planted in a more fertile land," announces one of Salvatore’s friends before he undertakes this cultural exodus, but he isn’t informed that it’s also a land which is thoroughly raked and weeded before its seeds are allowed to flourish.
Standing out from this lucid vision is Agnès Godard’s elemental cinematography (reminiscent of her work on Clair Denis' Beau Travail), which perfectly captures the tonal drift from the rugged topography of the naked Sicilian hillsides to the oppressive cast-iron schooner in which the Mancusos naively glide to their land of milk and honey.
Indeed, as with his underrated previous film Respiro, Criasale uses swimming as a metaphor for rootlessness and loss, and in the film’s heartbreaking final shot (gorgeously synched with Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’) we see a swarm of émigrés breast-stroke aimlessly through a sea of milk, without a drop of honey in their sights.
Had a decent run on the festival circuit with good word-of-mouth reviews.
A tiny, tiny bit episodic, but highly pleasurable nonetheless.
Funny, moving and gorgeously photographed with a moral anger burning at its heart.