When I saw The Immigrant in theaters on the first day of its theatrical run in Dallas, I was overwhelmed, overjoyed, and terribly moved. I saw it again a few days later and afterwards could think of no reason not to join the semi-cult of movie lovers and movie makers that consider it a masterpiece, a truly great film, one of the best in years, even (though to use the word cult in relation to such a refined, gorgeous, and classical piece of filmmaking almost seems belittling).
The only problem is that such an opinion isn't more widespread. It's not because the film is polarizing (almost everyone I know of who's actually seen it really likes it) but because not enough people have seen it. By now it's old news that though the film was a success in Europe last fall, American distributors were afraid of giving it a release in the states. The film came frighteningly close to a straight-to-DVD/VOD release, and even when it finally was rescued and released theatrically in May, the marketing was dreadful, leaving it mostly up to eager cinephiles to spread the word and get as many people to see it on the big screen (where it begs to be experienced) as possible.
However, out of nowhere, before it was even released on DVD, the movie showed up on Netflix monday, making it available for everyone. I saw it for a third time only to eagerly await seeing it a fourth. Unless you don't have Netflix, there's no excuse not to see it. At the very least, a viewer will know nothing of James Gray or why the movie plays like something so utterly out of touch with modern modes of storytelling, and yet they will still hopefully be emotionally involved with Ewa's (Marion Cotillard) journey and Bruno's (Joaquin Phoenix) complex relationship with her. At the most, one will know Gray as the great auteur that he is, catch the influences of Kazan, Visconti, silent cinema, opera, 19th century painting, and 1970s visual styles and still be baffled by the way it comes off as both utterly clear and completely opaque. "I've seen The Immigrant three times and I still don't know what it's about," writes Richard Brody in his review. It's not that the film is ambiguous (it has ambiguous elements, for sure, but for the most part it's got the directness of a Douglas Sirk film), but that it captures the ridges of the human emotional landscape that go far beyond New York, the 1920s, burlesque shows, and the American dream.
There hasn't been a truly great piece written on The Immigrant (though a handful really good ones) and I sure as hell don't feel qualified at this point to try and write one. Instead I've chosen a fragmentary approach in which for the next week I'll post something about the movie each day. It might be an analysis of a scene, a character, it might be an underdeveloped idea I'm wrestling with about the film, a look at the filmmaking or the acting in a certain scene, or it could just be an image I find especially stunning. It'll pretty much just be whatever I'm thinking about in The Immigrant on that particular day, because to be honest, that's sort of how the film has worked on me. It's such a massive thing in its entirety that I almost feel too overwhelmed to contemplate it as a whole. Rather I like to think about a scene, an image, a line of dialogue, a piece of music in the hope to work up a more complete and focused idea of the film. Someone wrote on Letterboxd that no one's written the great American novel yet, but James Gray went ahead and made a movie out of it anyway. It seems like a half-joking, half-serious statement, as if there's something almost inexplicable about this movie's existence, as if it came from nowhere but ended up being everything, and only because it's cinema.