IN COMPETITION – James Gray at the crossroads of his origins

James Gray © FDC / TD

The director of The Yards has placed the storyline of his new film in the New York of the 1920s and on Ellis Island, a place full of history where his grandparents, like thousands of European immigrants, first walked upon American soil.

The question of filiation is always deeply rooted in James Gray’s films and can be found in a more personal way in The Immigrant, his latest feature film, in which he tackles his American roots directly. By relating the misadventures of Sonya Cybulski, a young Polish immigrant who has just arrived in New York and driven to prostitution, the American film director is partially mirroring the story of his grandparents when they arrived in New York from Eastern Europe, just like Sonya, at the beginning of the 1920s.

James Gray is used to filming in his native New York, but this is the first time that he has used his camera on the mythical Ellis Island, which is rarely visited by filmmakers. The island’s immigration centre opened in 1892, and was the place where thousands of immigrants arriving in the USA converged until it was closed in 1954. Like the New York in The Yards (2000), We Own The Night (2007) and Two Lovers (2008), which were all presented at the Festival de Cannes in Competition, it rains incessantly in the New York in The Immigrant, a dark place where kind souls and gangsters wage a merciless struggle.

James Gray was marked by the living conditions at the time and his film depicts the daily life of New Yorkers from the deprived areas where the majority of immigrants found refuge once they had gone through quarantine. As always, the filmmaker has engaged his favourite actor, Joaquin Phoenix, who portrays a mafioso close to the underworld of prostitution. In The Immigrant, Phoenix has shot for the fourth consecutive time with James Gray who chose Marion Cotillard to play Sonya, saying that he had written the film for her.


Benoit Pavan


Friday 24 May / Grand Théâtre Lumière / 8.30a.m. – 3.30p.m. – 7.30p.m.
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