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Here’s what went through my mind watching “THE IMMIGRANT”: New York Harbor comes into view; and I try to bring to mind how my grandparents must have thrilled as they hailed the grand Statue of Liberty. And then as the people swayed off the boat and were checked off through Ellis Island, I pictured those folks again. After that I no longer thought about my grandparents but tried to be absorbed in the film’s plot and the acting. The story portrays one young Polish woman who disembarks and (with her sister) looks forward to living in their aunt and uncle’s house as they start life in New York.

But right off the boat, things start heading the wrong way. First her sister gets quarantined because she’s suffering from tuberculosis. Secondly, her uncle doesn’t show up to vouch for her. Meanwhile, watching it all— spying her and other women– purposefully searching for recruits for some task– is a smartly dressed fellow with  an air of tenseness and calmness all rolled in one. When this one young woman with more women are lined up to be further inspected and questioned, the man moves towards them. Each of the women is asked: “Do you speak English?”   The one we’ve been watching says “Yes.” Since she is now being rejected– due to an immoral charge the guards learned– from an incident on ship– this man pays off the guard and is able to set her free to come along with him.

Now we get to know them. He is Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) and she’s Ewa (Marion Cotillard)— and two finer actors you could not find in many films. He knows his way around. He...

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