The Grand opens â€Ë"Golden Door’

Charming immigrant story arrives

By Teresa Budasi on July 19, 2007

In America, garden vegetables are as big as people and currency grows in the shrubbery. At least that’s what one Sicilian peasant family thinks upon seeing some doctored-up postcards.

Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato) is a poor farmer. His land is rough and rocky, and his livestock consists of a donkey, a goat and a couple of chickens. He’s a widower raising two teenage boys, one of whom is mute. His elderly mother is also under his roof. One day, after running barefoot up a craggy mountainside with a sharp rock in his mouth, which he drops at a makeshift shrine, Salvatore decides to leave the hardscrabble life behind and head to the New World.

It’s the turn of the 20th century in Emanuele Crialese’s “Golden Door,” when hordes of huddled masses dreaming of untold opportunity crammed onto European steamships bound for America.

A mysterious, redheaded Englishwoman named Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who most certainly stands out in the crowd of folks getting on the boat, attaches herself to Salvatore’s party (he’s brought not only his sons and his mother but also two young girls from the village who have been promised to wealthy men in America who need wives). Lucy and Salvatore come to a silent understanding here.

The second part gives us the emigrant’s-eye view of the long and treacherous transatlantic journey. The men are separated from the women in cramped steerage quarters. Everyone has his own bunk, but it’s probably less than two feet from the next person’s bunk; there is no privacy. Just as they all get used to it, a storm rattles them out of their bunks, literally. It’s a terrifying scene, played mostly in the dark, just as the passengers experience it.

The final chapter begins and ends at Ellis Island where all entering must undergo a series of humiliating tests, both mental and physical, before being deemed “fit” to live in America. And single women have to sit in a court-like setting and wait for a stranger to ask her to marry him; if she has no prospects, she is sent back to her homeland.

Director Emanuele Crialese (2003’s “Respiro”) is painter-like in the way he captures the feeling of a specific place and time. His detailed portrait is a humbling reminder of where many of our ancestors came from and what they endured for us, their future generations. We never see what becomes of the Mancuso family, but we know that Salvatore remains optimistic.

Golden Door

Three Stars

Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Vincenzo Amato

Director: Emanuele Crialese

Rated: PG-13 for brief graphic nudity