Author Topic: The Immigrant  (Read 5846 times)

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The Immigrant
« on: October 25, 2013, 01:15:16 PM »

On the mean streets of Manhattan, Ewa falls prey to Bruno, a charming but wicked man who takes her in and forces her into prostitution.

Directed by James Gray
Written by James Gray and Ric Menello
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Renner
Release Date - May 16, 2014

« Last Edit: May 05, 2014, 09:15:46 PM by wilder »


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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2013, 01:38:07 PM »
Featuring Jeremy Renner as Richard Alpert.


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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2014, 08:15:17 AM »
This is a great film. Did anyone else see this yet?
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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2014, 08:41:17 AM »
I've seen it. This is my least favorite James Gray. Two Lovers is one of my favorite films, and I was surprised to find a distance between The Immigrant and me. He said the movie was about "self-hate" but I didn't feel it. Bruno was the most interesting character, but Gray preferred Ewa. Anyway, I liked it. The last shot is masterful. But the story could have been stronger; it felt full of holes, the emotions were hard to trap. And for a movie which wants to be operatic, it is an issue.

I really want him to direct The Lost City of Z next.
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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #4 on: April 03, 2014, 06:00:44 AM »
james gray's best film to date.  a masterclass in devastation.  absolutely gorgeous to look at.  marion cotillard is amazing and i don't think has ever looked more beautiful in a film.  joaquin does his thing, unreal as usual.  be excited for this one.  great film.  wish they kept the original title.


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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #5 on: April 04, 2014, 04:53:09 PM »

I will say the Gray makes solid movies and he gets overlooked often. I think he's this close to making his masterpiece. Let's hope this one is it.


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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #6 on: April 04, 2014, 08:07:27 PM »
I saw it a few months ago and am going back again next week to confirm that this is, indeed, his masterpiece. No disrespect to Cotillard, who's great, but Joaquin's character is one for the ages.


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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2014, 02:04:30 PM »

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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2014, 04:09:25 AM »
What a wonderful mood in that trailer! Paints a picture of a much more dreamy film than I'd anticipated.


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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2014, 09:15:13 PM »
Interview: Tea Time with James Gray
By Margaret Barton-Fumo
5 May 2014
via Film Comment

James Gray’s The Immigrant, a period drama starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner, opens theatrically May 16. Last October, shortly after the film screened in the 51st New York Film Festival, FILM COMMENT’s Margaret Barton-Fumo sat down for an hour-long rap session with Gray at the Trump International off Central Park. (Gray will take part in a discussion and Q&A this Wednesday at 7pm, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center—where The Immigrant will begin a run next week.)

James Gray: [Scanning the menu] Chocolate donut, sugar donut... This is really expanding my midriff. [Addresses the waiter] I haven’t the slightest idea, what’s a triple chocolate donut?

[Waiter responds: “It’s kind of like a cake donut, so it’s chocolate cake that’s covered in chocolate, with chocolate stripes. It’s very delicious, but you need a glass of milk to brave it.”]

JG: That sounds terrible for you, I’m not doing that! I’ll have a corn muffin.

Two Lovers

FILM COMMENT: Tell me a little bit about suspense. I watched Two Lovers [08] again recently and I noticed how even in that film you included a very suspenseful, tense scene: Joaquin Phoenix is hiding behind Gwyneth Paltrow’s door and she’s talking to Elias Koteas…

JG: Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. I had written that and then thought I shouldn’t shoot it, thinking it was too farfetched or like something out of a Hitchcock movie. But then Joaquin said: “No, don’t take that out, because I did that! Two months ago I did that.” I asked him what he was talking about and he said: “I hid behind the door and there was a girl with this guy...” So we kept it in, more or less. I’m a fan of Hitchcock.

It’s similar to the scene in The Yards [00] where Mark Wahlberg has been ordered to kill the policeman who just awoke out of a coma. He’s on the run and he’s hiding behind the hospital curtain...

Which is one of my favorite things that I’ve done. It’s also the slowest. It takes its time.

You’re very good at crafting tension at the right time and the right moment.

A lot of people don’t agree with you. A lot of people think my films are very boring. I think I know the origin of my obsession with that kind of thing. On 59th Street right near the bridge was a theater that’s still there that was called the D.W. Griffith. I want to say it was in 1983 or ’84 when a whole series of Hitchcock movies became available after not being seen for something like two decades. There were five of them: Rope, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and The Trouble with Harry. The first one they screened was Rear Window, which I loved, which had been out of circulation for some time because I believe he made it for Paramount but the rights somehow went to Universal. [Slows down and pauses dramatically] I saw Rear Window. That movie is incredible. There’s that moment, if you know the film, where she’s watching Jimmy Stewart in the apartment across the courtyard and then you see Raymond Burr and you’re like “Get out of the apartment, aahhh!” and you want to tear your hair out.

There’s a lot of voyeurism in your films too.

Maybe that was a big moment for me. I didn’t really think about it before. I think, and you may argue with me on this and many people do, but I think The Man Who Knew Too Much is a masterpiece—the remake. It’s an incredible movie and I know you’re going to think I’m a moron but I’m gonna make a pronouncement, are you ready? [Another dramatic pause] Doris Day is incredible in that film. There’s a scene where Jimmy Stewart has to tell her that Hank has been kidnapped and he’s not telling her. She’s like [in Doris Day voice] “Where’s Hank?” [now as Jimmy Stewart] “Oh aahh I’ll tell you about Hank.” And there’s this case that he has, he opens it up, and there’s a hypodermic needle and he takes a sedative. He gives her a pill, and he says “Just take it,” and she says “What’s that?” and she’s wonderful. Her reaction is incredible. I love that film.

I like that film too. Surely she’s better than Grace Kelly.

Better than Grace Kelly? I love Grace Kelly. I’ve got no problems with Grace Kelly.

My controversial Hitchcock opinion is that I love Torn Curtain.

Torn Curtain has brilliant shit in it but I probably haven’t seen it in about 30 years. So I should go back and check it out because I remember it having incredible stuff in it. My controversial one is that I hate The Birds. It’s terrible.

I don’t hate it but I don’t—

I can’t sit through it! The incredible setpiece with the crows landing and the kids singing on the jungle gym—it has things that are great in it. But to sit through it, that’s painful.

The terrible psychology in it.

You know what it is? It’s where the subtext became the text. And I don’t have an interest in it. It just drives me crazy.

A lot of critics and film theorists love it.

They love it. It’s a little obvious.

Some high-minded people tend to like it.

So maybe I’m missing something. I think it’s too obvious.


They like Marnie too.

I know, I can’t go with Marnie! People I love and respect love Marnie so I feel like I’m an idiot. It feels really awkward to me. It feels stiff...

It’s sloppy.

After Psycho, his films kind of lose their sheen and beauty.

I really like Frenzy though.

I know, I like Frenzy, but again I haven’t seen it for about 30 years. I remember the finger-breaking scene.

It’s an edgy one.

He was a big deal to me. I don’t think I’d ever seen movies like that before. Jaws was big for me when I was a kid, which has a measure of that kind of suspense, but I don’t think there was anything that would have prepared me for Hitchcock. I’m big on Apocalypse Now, but that’s not really a movie of suspense except for the tiger, which is an incredible moment. So Hitchcock was a big deal. That’s the only way I can say it.

Which reminds me of another thing that you do…

I would rather you did that than for me have to figure it out myself.

The Immigrant

You’re good at teasing out character development by selectively withholding information, sometimes from the characters and sometimes from us. Which leads me to a question I’d like to ask you about The Immigrant: why did you hold out for so long to reveal Marion Cotillard’s experience on the ship? We keep wondering what really happened—to the point where the anticlimactic becomes climactic. Is that why you didn’t film any scenes on the boat?

Someone asked me about that at the press conference, and as is always the case, I thought of the correct answer two hours later: that movie’s already been made by Kazan, the exact movie. Why did I withhold the information? There are many reasons. I guess I saw that confession scene in a way as the center of the movie, not time wise but the dramatic center. It’s at that moment when the codependent relationship between Marion and Joaquin is cemented in a very tragic way. I needed him to overhear it and I didn’t want him to know it immediately—it’s actually more about her because she obviously has that knowledge throughout.

Almost surprisingly so, it reinforces her innocence.

By the way, you’re the first person to ask me that. I’ve gotten about 50,000 questions about this movie and you’re the first person to notice that. It does, but at the same time I ask myself, did she not do more than that? Did she trade sexual favors for food? Did she lie to the priest? I don’t know, in a way for me the point was not relevant. It wasn’t important because what I was trying to communicate at least was the idea that she’s beating herself up terribly, but what’s wrong with trying to survive? Is it such a sin? The church would regard it terribly... That’s such a good question. Because I remember thinking dramatically we needed to learn it later rather than sooner.

There’s a mystery to each one of the three main characters: there’s the dichotomy of the two guys where you don’t know how bad Joaquin’s character is or how good Jeremy Renner’s is, and your perspective changes up until the end of the film. None of them are definitively anything.

Isn’t that part of what drama should be?


It’s important to me to hopefully promote a complex worldview in which people are neither good nor bad. I may be a jerk to person A and never to person B, but our perception of the other person is always our own. You’re different with me than you are with your family or whatever, so this idea of, is the character good or bad, I’m the overlord and this is my judgment on the person... We should not make judgments about anybody and that’s the whole point of it, to leave an eternal mystery at the heart of everybody. See, even with Joaquin Phoenix who plays a really terrible person—I wanted even his character to have an ambiguity. In a certain sense he’s only struggling to survive with such self-loathing. You know the entire picture was engineered so the last scene would not explain or justify, but to make sense of everything that had come before. Someone so filled with self-hate, who’s acting all the time—everything’s a manipulation and at the core of it is this mystery that we’re talking about. It’s an essential part of this complex worldview. To me that’s everything.

The other thing is that the struggle can never only be external. External struggle in movies is interesting but it’s a surface tension. It’s like, “I gotta go pick up the disc,” that’s my struggle, I’ve gotta go get the disc and how do I climb up here, that’s an external struggle. The internal struggle is, if I get the disc I may kill that person while saving that person and it’s screwing me up inside.

The Immigrant

Joaquin’s character is pimping out women to survive and doing a number of unsavory things. I know this is a shortcut but: by the end of the film in a sense he ends up being prostituted by her. She really uses him up, you know?

That’s the idea of a codependent relationship, isn’t it? In a perverse way she has a power over him and she must know it.

Someone at the New York Film Festival press screening asked you why you have a female protagonist, and for me, I felt it had to be one in order to emphasize, to show completely, the experience of being exploited in order to survive. It’s a gross metaphor but I think it’s fitting that the film is about a woman.

Interesting. I would say that’s accurate. When did you see the film, if you don’t mind my asking?

At the press screening for the New York Film Festival.

I wish that you had seen it at Alice Tully Hall. That was the greatest screening room I’d ever seen in my life.

This was at the Walter Reade.

You don’t understand. Alice Tully—I’d never had a film play at the New York Film Festival before and let me tell you, they know how to run a festival. I’ve had to screen it several places now and I’m always like this [mimes nervous nail biting]. The other night at Alice Tully, I was like: if you’re gonna like or hate this movie, I’ve got no more excuses, this is the way you should see it!

I’m looking forward to seeing it again, now that I know what happens.

It’s true; you have to get past what happens.

The nervous parts.

It’s weird—why is that? I always find that too. You have to get past the story.

The Immigrant

[Corn muffin break.]

I read that you were going to direct a biopic about Miles Davis at some point?

Yeah, I had been very interested in it, but it’s such a complicated undertaking, and the truth of the matter is that I felt uncomfortable being a white Jewish guy making a movie about a person who had to deal with the brutal effects of bigotry. I also thought the script was never quite there. In a way I couldn’t solve it, because in one way or another all good biopics are love stories and I couldn’t find the love there. I’m a huge jazz fan. Jazz, blues...


Do you like Clint Eastwood’s Bird?

I haven’t seen it in a long time, but when I first saw it I was extremely impressed. I think it’s really good and I think it’s very bold. I didn’t expect that kind of movie from Clint Eastwood, I don’t know why. I mean, now it seems like a no-brainer to come from him, but this was, what, ’86 or something? Especially now given the fact that Clint Eastwood has sort of taken his place as an American auteur, and it wasn’t always thus. Pauline Kael had pretty much ripped him a new ass when he did Dirty Harry, for being a fascist movie—which it is—and his critical reputation took a long time to recover from that. Though sometimes he makes very liberal movies, I think like by accident.

Speaking of music, that becomes more important as I get older. I have a sort of running commentary with my friend about drummers. Believe it or not, I’m extremely partial to Ringo Starr and I think he’s a genius. I’ll tell you why: if you isolate Ringo’s drumming, you’ll always know it’s him. The fills are incredible. I don’t know what the hell he’s doing, but he’s always perfect for the song.

There’s decision-making behind it—how well he holds the band together, and the decisions he makes in his drumming. What he chooses not to play is important, too.

Exactly. Listen, when the Beatles did that Anthology thing in the mid-Nineties they had a Decca sessions recording of “Love Me Do” with Pete Best on it [scrunches up his face] and you listen to “A Day in the Life”... [Surveys the room and whispers] What Ringo Starr is playing on that song is incredible. And you’re like, what is he doing? It’s so compositional. And of course I used to love Bonzo, who I still love, but he doesn’t swing. It’s interesting, I was talking to a drummer who’s a big Ringo fan, and he was saying the feel is like off the charts. Most drummers hit the high hat [starts to play an imaginary drum kit] but Ringo Starr goes like this [swipes his arm]—he swipes at it, so it sort of swings. Tell me if I’m boring you.

No, I love it! Did you see the Ginger Baker documentary [Beware of Mr. Baker]? He talks about swing in it, how certain drummers don’t have it and how necessary it is to have.

Well, that’s everything, isn’t it? Let me think of who doesn’t have the swing. Does he talk about that?

Oh, yeah he’s a character, a total wildcard. He’s like the Klaus Kinski of rock music. He trashes Bonzo.

Because of the swing thing?

Ginger Baker is one of those learned drummers like Charlie Watts who come from a strict jazz background, and I think he looks down on John Bonham as untrained and animalistic.

That’s not totally true. If you listen to “The Rain Song,” Bonzo’s drumming on it is very accomplished. Jimmy Page gave it that ridiculous Jamaican sound at the beginning, and he’s recording his drums inside a huge echoing space—that’s a very Bonzo kind of thing. He also hit very hard. I’m not too familiar with Ginger Baker’s drumming, but I feel somewhat emboldened by the fact that I was talking about swing and that’s what he talks about. It’s hard to describe because swing is a very elusive quality. Can you teach swing?

I think [Baker] needed the heroin and the drugs to counteract with the learning and the muscle memory.

By the way, there’s another great Ringo Starr thing: his drumming on the song “Rain” is incredible. Try to listen to the drumming on “Strawberry Fields Forever”—it’s ridiculous. [Whispers again conspiratorially] And I also think Paul is an incredible bass player, totally musical.

The thing about Paul is that he was the one in the band who was open to more far-out music.

Oh, yeah, you’re right, he was the avant-garde guy.

Paul championed Albert Ayler.

That’s right, and Stockhausen.

He was into the weird stuff, more so than John.

I know, it’s amazing to think that. They were all sort of arty-farty. They all went to art school in Liverpool, which is amazing to think about how they really were obscure in some respect. Just look at the cover of Sgt. Pepper, oh my god! Lenny Bruce and all of these sort of arty icons are on it. Anyway I don’t want to go on about it. I could talk about music forever!

Please, go on.

I came to Ringo Starr late in life. If you try to listen to the Beatles song “She Said She Said” from Revolver… The greatest popular rock music record ever. Revolver is upsetting: from “Taxman” to “Tomorrow Never Knows” it’s like everything on that record—what would the movie equivalent to that be? What’s a movie where there’s nothing wrong with it from beginning to end? Revolver covers a huge range, I don’t even know what that would be! I don’t know, what are they saying the greatest movie of all time is now, Vertigo?

It bumped off Citizen Kane (from the Sight & Sound poll).

Which I love, by the way. I think Vertigo’s incredible. But Vertigo’s not Revolver. Vertigo is very consistent in what it’s doing, it’s not all over the place.

Now, I will not accept from you any discussion that tries to equate the Beatles with the Stones. I love the Rolling Stones but they’re not the Beatles.

It’s kind of dumb how they’re considered the two pinnacles of rock.

Did you know there’s a book that just came out, Beatles or Stones?

It’s such a tired argument.

You can’t have the Stones without the Beatles, you can’t imagine that… I’m talking bullshit, I’m sorry. I love music.

Did you go to film school?

Yes, I started off studying filmmaking, but I quickly switched over to film studies.

So you studied film theory? Is that like Jacques Lacan?

Not as an undergrad, but I had to learn all of that in graduate school.

That’s interesting because I found film theory both liberating and terrifying. It’s incredible if you’re writing about cinema. It’s horrible if you have to create it, because it says you’re meaningless in the process as a creative person.

Or you’re everything.

Or you’re everything. You have to learn from it and then forget it. But as a tool for writing about movies, it’s incredible. And actually as a tool for seeing the world, it’s incredible. One of the true breakthroughs in thinking—it’s been a long time, but I remember they made us read something in school by Louis Althusser. One of the weirdest guys of all time, literally a murderer!

The apparatus guy.

The ideological apparatus of the state: ISA! He talked about how we are all empty vessels through which a series of cultural and ideological forces basically flow. And the argument is incredibly cogent and reasoned. You read it and it’s almost unmistakably correct but at the same time completely depressing, very harmful to the cause of creation.

Don’t even go near the Frankfurt School then. They’re all a bunch of downers. Adorno, Benjamin—he’s a fun one.

You know his fate? That’s an incredible story. Also I should tell you this is probably the first time I’ve talked about Walter Benjamin in probably 20 years. I had to read Walter Benjamin, also Dwight MacDonald was a big one in college, Baudrillard. I remember the first book they had us read in film school was John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, that key text. Wasn’t there this whole thing about Magritte in it? It must have been around 1988 when I read it, I don’t remember these things. But it rocked my world. I was like 19 years old!

You attended film school in California, am I right?

You know what happened, I got a scholarship for USC but I didn’t want to go. I made a huge mistake—the result of being a moron. I thought that Francis Ford Coppola, who was my hero, had gone to USC, when he actually went to UCLA. But I wanted to be like “that kind of guy” and USC gave me the money, so I went there and set up shop. But I always wanted to move back. But New York has changed, it’s just going to be a place for zillionaires. They pushed me out, I don’t live here anymore.

Are you blind? I’m blind.

Yes! How did you know that? Did you just guess?

I guessed. I wanted to look for a kindred spirit because my eyes are such shit. I’m now at the edge because I’m getting old, and it’s like my nearsightedness is counteracting my farsightedness. This is what happens when you reach 40. The distance you are across from me, you’re at the edge. I can see you with glasses or without.

I have to go to a contact-lens specialist and have them shipped out from Colorado. It’s awful. My glasses are like—

Coke bottles?



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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #10 on: May 14, 2014, 04:18:31 PM »
Interview: Director James Gray Talks ‘The Immigrant,’ Working With Marion Cotillard, The Late Harris Savides & Much More
By Rodrigo Perez
via The Playlist

As we recently noted, filmmaker James Gray has only made five films in 20 years. That’s a positively low number, but Gray has had many hardships that distracted from his body of work. His debut “Little Odessa” won a major prize in 1994 at the Venice Film Festival and that jumpstarted his career, but obstacles both minor and major threatened to derail that momentum. For “The Yards,” he ran into the might of Harvey Weinstein and a compromised ending saw him booed at Cannes (Miramax subsequently dumped the film into a few theaters with barely a regular release). This beating was difficult and it took Gray seven years to follow it up with “We Own The Night,” which performed well at the box-office, but was marketed like a fairly generic cop movie and not the rich father and sons policier that it is. The romantic drama “Two Lovers” was also a success, but its narrative was hijacked by Joaquin Phoenix’s “rap career” stunt that culminated with the hoax documentary “I’m Still Here.”

Gray's career took a long time to coalesce because of the infrequency of his films, and because so few people saw them at the time, but a body of work began to emerge over the years that demonstrated the artistry of a thoughtful and measured auteur deeply fascinated by unironic authenticity, emotional vulnerability and the complexities of human interaction. Gray’s films, while adored in France, are unknown to many in the U.S. because of their compromised releases, despite terrific casts. “The Yards” alone stars Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Ellen Burstyn and Faye Dunaway – a troupe that nowadays would make any casting agent scream with joy. And as elusive as Joaquin Phoenix is, it’s a testament to Gray’s films that he’s starred in four of his films in a row.

Gray’s latest film also stars Phoenix and includes the boast-worthy cast of Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner. While Gray’s pictures to date are mostly family-driven crime films taking place in modern day New York, his fifth feature, “The Immigrant,” is ostensibly the most different from his body of work while remaining true to many of the themes Gray has tracked in the past. Set in 1920s New York, “The Immigrant” follows a Polish émigré (Cotillard), the manipulative pimp she falls in with (Phoenix) and the magician she meets who could be her one hope (Renner). But Gray has been slowly losing his genre trappings. “The Immigrant” is not a crime tale, nor one about the way family can be our greatest source of happiness and pain. But, like his other movies, “The Immigrant” is about the need to fit in, while chronicling ideas of codependency and the idea that no one, no matter how low, is not beyond redemption. It’s a beautiful, slow-burn movie that unfolds with a rather bold, but subtle surprise in its last act (read our review from Cannes here).

Filmmaker James Gray is a charming raconteur and he’ll talk your ear off if you let him (or if you force him). Over the last six months, I had the opportunity to talk to Gray twice, once for what was a marathon phone session. So, in the interest of trying to condense our sprawling conversations that covered much of his career, this interview will act as part one and part two will run later this week.

I rewatched “Little Odessa” recently and it’s funny how “The Immigrant” could be seen as a kind of prequel to it – even though Marion’s character is Polish and the family in ‘Odessa’ is Russian. Aside from autobiographical elements you use for both, they both have a personal and intimate touch.
It's hard for me to talk about “Little Odessa” in candor because it's been a long time since I made the movie and I haven't watched it since. But I can say is that I came of age in a certain period where films were supposed to be personal. I actually have a lot of optimism that people still do that and actually want to do that.

This situation's gotten considerably better over the last 20 years. John Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese really opened the door in that way for Americans to make personal films. So the idea was to try and mine your own life for as much as you possibly could for material. The closer you can get to being personal the better the work is or the more interesting the work is. Francis Ford Coppola once said, “You should always make personal films because there's only one of you and the more personal you get the more original you get.” So I've just tried to find that in the same way. I don't know...with regards to similarities between the new film and that one, I mean, what can I say? I'm the same person I guess.

Sure, what I'm specifically getting at is how the characters in "Little Odessa" and “The Immigrant are influenced by your grandfather and stories from your ancestry.
Yeah it is. Well you can’t shake that. Those stories made such an impression on me as a kid. My grandparents they came through Ellis Island in 1923 and you know I'd heard all the stories. They didn't speak English very well even to the day they died but their mood was so clear.

You know the conventional wisdom is that people come to the United States and immigration is so great and they say America, what a great Country. And a lot of that is true. Obviously a huge part of that is true. Life is way better than it was for them in old Ukraine during the Russian Civil War, but for example my grandfather would sit around and talk about how melancholy he was that he missed the old Country which I always thought was crazy because you know his parents had gotten their heads chopped off by the Czarist troops. But I guess part of you stays where you're from and they couldn't forget that melancholy and I think that's in large measure what I've been trying to impart in the film. This didn’t start out as a conscious thing you know?

Maybe that melancholy is the throughline of the tragic nature of a lot of your characters.
Yeah. I know I wish I could leave it behind in some respects. That's not all that life is.

True, but the work is emotional and geared towards adults. That’s sorely lacking these days and I wish we had more of it.
I don't know if you should say that. If everybody made these movies you'd want the other kind.

You know, it's hard to run away from who you are and when your taste is formed is a very important thing. I’ve discussed this many times but it's all attributable to the death of United Artists, which I think was a really big change in movies. But you know since I last talked to the Playlist about this subject there's been I think a real change, I think there's a lot of interesting films being made. Certainly around the world there always was but even in the United States now I see Warner Brothers for example making like Spike Jonze new movie “Her”...certainly there is some interesting stuff. I do see from at least some studios some really great things happening so I have a lot of optimism which wasn't the case even a year ago.

Well, it can be easy to get cynical in the summer glut, but the fall certainly brings back a lot of great films.
Yeah that's really true. What we do, at least I certainly make this mistake myself, which is that you know when you look back on 1974 for example and you see that there's “The Godfather Part II” and “The Conversation,” “Chinatown” and “A Woman Under The Influence,” so many of these amazing films, but there were probably many, many, many terrible films released that year too. We just don't remember them. So in a sense I have a distorted view of history that I sell.

Your films often play around with many of the same personal themes – social class, the family as a source of great pain, tragedy, your Russian Jewish heritage, films set in New York – and so far you’ve successfully made them distinct.
You hope that what happens is they're different because you change. Everybody changes as they get older, it's an unavoidable and I think actually beautiful fact of life. You want the films in the best case scenario to be from the same point of view but different which is one of the most bizarre and seemingly contradictory things. But you want to grow.

Now of course the big problem is as a filmmaker, or in any artistic endeavor if I may use that dirty word, the truth is that you are always changing and that means you're always growing. There are times when you take a step back and sometimes you have to take one step back to take a couple of steps forward. There’s no director in cinema history whose films just got better and better until their best film and then they stopped, you know? It doesn't really work like that.

You know, even in the case of someone like Kurosawa — I think “Ran” is one of the great films of the last 25, 30 years but you know he made “Dreams” after that and “Madadayo” which has terrific stuff. “Rhapsody in August” is another, but they're not on the same level as “Ran.” So what you just have to do is know that you're going to change. You can't think about, “okay is this going to be different?” but you also don't want to repeat yourself. I try to forget about the rest of the work, and in my own case I just try to think about what it is I have to reveal about myself. I know this sounds incredibly self-centered but there's no really no way around it. It's a self centered-profession, if this kind of film you want to make is a personal kind of film.

This film is your first true period piece and your first to feature a female lead. That’s pretty different from your past work.
Well, that's true. I had seen the origin of the female lead thing was very clear to me. I had seen an opera presentation in Los Angeles which was of Puccini's "Il Trittico" which is three operettas. There's two tragedies and a comedy. The two tragedies were directed by William Friedkin and the comedy was “Gianni Schicchi” directed by Woody Allen. So I'm watching these operas and the Friedkin ones I just thought were just great. The second one, which was called “Suor Angelica,” was about a woman, a nun, and she was the main character and the thing was so emotional I was in tears.

My wife and I were just in tears over the whole thing and I saw it being very beautiful and it sort of hit me, freed from the macho trappings, freed from the need to be aggressively male, we could address the most emotional sides of us. I mean in a clichéd way. I mean female in terms of cultural qualities and differences. I was freed from what I thought was sort of a macho standpoint to explore the more feminine side of me, the more emotional qualities that I could. I wanted to push it more and more operatic and make it more of an operatic melodrama and that was something that I thought was really worth exploring where I could leave male behavior behind.

Which is also a big change for you.
Yes, well I think it is but you know women are most of the world, right? What is it 52 or 53% of the world is women? So it's embarrassing how few movies have women in the center. You know Hollywood pictures used to do it very well. Barbara Stanwyck would be the star of the movie or Katherine Hepburn. They made these female-centric melodramas which oftentimes ended rather conveniently but oftentimes were excellent. You know Bette Davis, and that's a tradition that's been more or less abandoned so in part I wanted to bring that back a little bit but with [more] frankness in terms of the ending. Or in terms of how the story progresses.

There’s excellent use of silences in the movie too.
I don't understand why movies don't utilize that more. The difference between stage and cinema, obviously, is the intimacy of cinema is so powerful, it's so unique to the medium. If I give you the best seat in the theater, 15 feet from the actor, I mean it's still pretty far. The camera can be 8 inches from the actor. You can be so intimate and one of the great things about movies is the actor's face can tell you so much. The close-up is the best weapon that we have...but it's a weapon that needs to be used sparingly.

Tell me about the shooting period. That must have been difficult.
You know, I did love it, but it was immensely difficult. I remember reading somewhere where Stanley Kubrick said that making a movie, is like trying to write “War and Peace” on a bumper car at Coney Island. You can kind of multiply that by a hundred for a period movie. I remember you go to set one day and you have five hundred people in period outfits running around with horses and chickens running around on the street and old cars and it's crazy and you're like, “What am I doing?" So it does present that kind of logistical challenge but at the same time I found it an incredibly exciting thing to do.

You did use a little CG in this, right?
Well, you have to. I mean the city looks nothing like it. We couldn't shoot in the Lower East Side for example because the Lower East Side now is gone. A lot of those buildings are still there but you know the ground floor is like a Jimmy Choo shoe store so you can't just take those over. We shot all that stuff at Ellis Island. The one thing that's totally CG is when Joaquin Phoenix comes out of jail and meets her on the street. That's them walking in like a green box because the old tombs police jail is not there anymore. It's torn down, so that we had to create.

You’ve said that Jeremy Renner looks like the real-life magician in the film that he is based off W. Theodore Annemann. Was that why you cast him?
Well, it didn't hurt. I cast him because I love him. I think he's a great actor and I love him as a person. But he also had a Clark Gable thing going on but I thought if he introduced a certain darkness that it would be a great thing because you could play someone who was not entirely trustworthy, but at the same time had a certain charm.

How did you get him on board?
Kathryn Bigelow introduced us at a party believe it or not. Jeremy was a fan of mine at least to hear him tell it and he wanted me to write a movie about Steve McQueen for him before [“The Immigrant”] which I did [more about that movie here]. So I finished it and then I said to him, “You know I've got this other movie that I really want you to do.” I'm very selfish. There's an ulterior motive here so that was how he got on board. The other actors, Marion, Joaquin, I had written the parts for them and they were on board immediately. The third lead was the toughest to cast because he's not in the movie until halfway through and you're not sure whether he's a good guy or not and it's a very generous thing that Jeremy did for me.

This movie is like reversed engineered; at first you’re not sure if Joaquin is the right actor for this character, but then as the movie unfolds… his true nature comes out.
Right, that was the idea. Joaquin and I talked about this. In a way it's a real risk, it's an act of hubris to build a movie for a repeat viewing because in a sense, the idea is for it to be richer and better both on repeated viewing and in retrospect. Joaquin and I always felt that was [the] best way to try and make films but sometimes you know you pay for that upon initial reaction. But it's what Joaquin and I wanted to try and we felt that was the interesting thing to explore.

I suppose this peculiar approach is in keeping with your films forever shut out of the zeitgeist [laughs].
[Chuckles] The idea is not just to be contrarian for the sake of it, the idea is to be true to yourself and I think that people who chase trends inevitably follow them and that's not that's not inherently interesting to me. I'm a big fan of movies and I know the history of movies that try to follow the trend instead of anticipating or ignoring one. Movies that ignore the trends tend to have [a] better shelf life. Now in my case, who knows, but that’s the chance that I'm willing to take. If you're out of step, hopefully people respond to the work and that it has a shelf life.

I do find it pretty fascinating, in 1994, to see a 23-year-old make a movie [“Little Odessa”] that was almost the anti “Pulp Fiction.” You were out of step—in a good way—from the very beginning.
Well, I didn't consciously do the exact opposite. You know in the end you can't hate yourself, you have to embrace who you are and you have to play the hand you're dealt. But if you’re paying attention to what's in fashion you're going to be out of fashion next year and what's the use of that? Just focus on what it is that you want to do, what it is that you dream about and everything else you can't worry about.

The film was very personal. Do you look back on your films?
It was very autobiographical. My mother died of brain cancer, I have an older brother and there was a lot in it that was very intimate and I was dealing obviously with some issues. I just tried to make it as personal as I could. Do I look back on my movies? No I don't. It's not helpful to me and in many ways it's quite painful. The only film I don't look back on with much anguish really would be “Two Lovers,” because that was made without much pain. It was a very smooth running set and I didn't argue with producers and distributors about the film. But even there I have regrets and certain things I didn't get right but I guess what I mean is I did the best I could on that film. I didn't feel that it was interfered with.

Let’s talk about how Ric Menello influenced your work [Gray’s co-writer on “The Immigrant” and “Two Lovers” who was also a sage, bullshit detector and guide; he passed away last year]
You can’t emphasize enough how much you miss a person. He was like an encyclopedia of movies, but he was much more than that. He had a lot of soul and emotional intelligence. He knew basically every movie ever, and I think he understood drama and dramatic structure. In the case of [“The Immigrant”], I called him up and told him the type of movie I want to make, the subject about my grandparents, and then we just started thinking lists of scenes. And we talked through them and tried to structure it tightly in three acts. And he helped with that and the dialogue. We worked like that and he was just an invaluable resource. His death hit me rather hard because I talked to him every single day for four hours a day for years. I was totally stunned when he died, and just really upset.

That New Yorker piece from last year was interesting. How did you meet him?
You know, I didn’t anticipate that piece would be reprinted as an interview and quoting me verbatim. I wound up really regretting some of the things I talked about because he had a whole life apart from mine and I was a bit glib. The truth of the matter is he had this whole life apart from what we were doing. When he died there was this huge outpouring, affection from all these corners I didn’t know anything about.

I met him through Rick Rubin. And then I would introduce him to all these directors I knew. And before you knew it, he was the resource. Wes Anderson and Darren Aronofsky loved him too. You could call him at three in the morning and describe the movie you’re watching on TV to him and he would figure out what it was instantly, “Oh, it has this actor, and that actor in it, so obviously it’s…” he would tell you everything about it.

Did he aspire to write his own movies?
He certainly did, and he wrote several scripts, but this was something I learned about after he died. I knew that he had written a couple of scripts but he never gave them to me to read, which I respected. But he totally had this whole other side to him and I was unaware of it. I don’t doubt it one day someone will make them, but he never showed them to me, so I respect that, so I won’t pursue them.

Switching gears, I’m curious why you didn’t work with Harris Savides after “The Yards.” It seemed like both of you were on the same page.
He and I were very close. We did “The Yards” together and I adored him, I thought he was a beautiful person. After we did that film I did not work again for 6 years. When I finally found the money for “We Own The Night” he was doing “Zodiac” and it went a bit long and he simply wasn’t available. He suggested Joaquin Baca-Asay who he thought was very good. When I did “Two Lovers” I thought I would have the chance to work with Harris again, not that I didn’t love Joaquin [Baca-Asay], but he wanted to move onto directing. Harris was going to do it but he needed double knee replacement. So I asked Joaquin to hold off his directing career for a little bit and he shot it. [ed. Baca-Asay is now set to direct an Ol’ Dirty Bastard biopic]. I miss Harris dearly.

Your films all have a similar look despite only having worked with the same DP twice.
Well, for better or for worse, that is the case. I focus on what the film is going to look like. Each of the people I’ve worked with are wonderful artists and I try to accept some of their ideas that I really like. But once you set the framework, they end up having really great ideas within that framework. The films have a similar look because obviously I’ve thrown down with the cinematographer. But that isn’t always a good thing because part of a director’s job is embracing the visions of others as long as they enhance the scope of your original concept.

I think this film looks very different from all of your other films. It’s a lot brighter, it’s not obsessed with darkness like the others.
Well, it’s a different time period but it’s also because I’m trying to do something else. But [“The Immigrant” DP] Darius Khondji is an incredible artist. He brings a lot to the table. As for how the look differs, well, I approached it as a fable instead of a film noir. The other films, for all of their trappings, are really noirs. I guess “Two Lovers” was the first step outside of the noir range, but this I want it to be like a beautiful little jewel. I didn’t want it to be so obsessed with the darkness. We tried to achieve that with the sound and the visuals, with lighting people from below, giving them an angelic appearance. Here’s an interesting sound thing: every time Jeremy Renner’s character appears you hear these Christmas bells subtly buried in the soundtrack.

I assume you shoot this on 35mm film.
Yes, we shot it on Kodak. There’s no substitute for that. People say film is going away but I don’t agree. You hear all this talk about that, but there’s all these people who are playing vinyl records again. Just for archival, the digital process is shit. Have you ever tried to play a floppy disc recently? The film print stores the proper temperature – it’s a totally stable element. It’s unlike the digital process where the technology changes every five years. Companies are stopping making film stock, but it doesn’t mean they’re never going to do it again. I think it’ll make a bit of a comeback. The whole thing is silly because the product has better contrast ratio and better resolution and it’s not pixel but grain more like you eyes see, when it’s reintroduced everyone’s going to say “what’s this thing” and you’re going to say “film” and they’ll want film. Scorsese shot “Hugo” on digital but he thinks with the digital effects and so forth that digital is more useful in that way. But I believe that archivally you have to do film out. You know, we shot a blind taste test with the Red, the Alexa, Fuji, and Kodak, and Darius and I were screening them and the Kodak take was the best. You just can’t beat it.


These interviews are highly condensed versions of our original chat and I omitted much of what he had already said about “The Immigrant” in previous interviews. But if you’re also a big Gray fan or want to know more about “The Immigrant” specifically, I highly recommend reading these two pieces from the New York Film Festival last year because Gray talks about film eloquently and in depth. More from our interviews later in the week.

“The Immigrant” opens in limited release on May 16th.


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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #11 on: May 15, 2014, 08:58:24 PM »
Interview: James Gray Discusses Harvey Weinstein, Cinematic Influences, His Career, 'Die Hard' & More
By Rodrigo Perez
via The Playlist

The Immigrant” stars the terrific cast of Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner, and the 1920s-set period piece is superficially something very different for filmmaker James Gray. Gone are the genre trappings, macho-male leads with guns, stories deeply connected to the pain and sadness of family, and the shrouded Gordon Willis-like photography the filmmaker evinced on films like "The Yards," "We Own The Night" and "Little Odessa." However, “The Immigrant,” with its themes of the fallacy of the American Dream, the desire to fit in and idea that no one is beyond redemption is very much a James Gray film. It’s a further continuation of a singular pursuit told slightly differently, retaining Gray’s signature sense of emotional intelligence, intimacy and graceful restraint.

In 2013, “The Immigrant” was set to be a TWC-Radius/VOD release. Gray didn’t explain what happened exactly and why the film moved over to a proper The Weinstein Company theatrical release, but that’s where our second, more recent conversation began (you can read part one here; editor's note—parts of this conversation are also taken from a chat with Gray during a Q&A hosted by The Playlist at Brooklyn Academy of Music). Warning, mild spoilers below.

I should say congratulations because you must have naked pictures of Harvey Weinstein or something because now we've got a regular release.
I don't have naked pictures of Harvey. That's what I'll say. I will tell you that I am eternally grateful to the people who have seen the film and responded to it. They've made their affection for the movie known and that has helped the cause tremendously. There was some kind of prevailing narrative about the film getting mixed response in Cannes; divisive, which is really bullshit. It comes essentially entirely from the U.K. Because they all hated the movie. The rest of the world, very positive. So as a consequence of this prevailing narrative, that's very unhelpful when you're trying to get your film released, particularly when it relies on critical approbation.

The irony is you’re known as a Cannes guy, but your films get routinely roasted there. But “The Immigrant” seems to actually garnered the best response of all your films at the festival.
By far. And for reasons that I have no idea, it was not publicized. It was maybe a better story to write about how it was divisive. But I'm telling you, every film I've ever made has been hated by the U.K. critics. And they hated it. That's where that kind of narrative has come into play. But you're right, this one was very well received. I'm grateful because the movie is coming out.

You’ve got three terrific leads in this movie, Marion, Joaquin, Jeremy Renner; how did they mesh together? How are their acting styles different?
Good question. All actors have different styles, really. It’s not unique to this movie. William Atherton has a very different acting style to Bonnie Bedelia, she has a very different style then Bruce Willis. But the movie is “Die Hard” and the buildings are blowing up and you don’t even really register Alan Rickman in it too. In other words: it doesn’t really matter if they have different acting styles, because they’re all playing a sort of bubblegum kind of thing. By the way, I’m not badmouthing “Die Hard” I love that movie and I think it’s excellent. It holds up, it’s an exciting movie and it’s about as well-done as those movies come.

So this movie…
When the movie is focused on performance you start to realize these are issues. So Marion Cotillard is doing her best [Renée Jeanne] Falconetti impression, with her big eyes tearing up like a silent movie character. You’ve got Joaquin Phoenix method boy and then you’ve got Jeremy Renner the craftsman. Renner shows up, knows every line, does them exactly the way you want goes, “let’s play,” does 42 different versions that you love, all of them, and you go, “Jeremy, you’re good.” And he goes, “Thanks, man!” walks off and is the coolest guy in the room. Joaquin inevitably turns to me and goes [adopts anguished, nasally, mumbly Joaquin Phoenix voice]. “C’mon, how does this guy do it? He’s so good. He just shows up and does it. That guy is so fucking cool.” But you cast according to type. That's the way to do it, I think it, play to what the actor does. By the way, Marion is just an incredible actress, I’m not trying to be glib. The way you deal with it is to be very specific with each actor and to try and give specific and personal direction attuned to each person. I’ll whisper something to each of them individually.

How about Joaquin, specifically?
In Joaquin Phoenix’s case, he’s so inventive and all over the place in the best way. And on this movie, he was really wonderful to deal with because I had written the part as a brute. And he said, “I don’t wanna do that, why do you let me do what I wanna do?” And then he tells me during rehearsal, “I don’t think we’re making the same movie.” And Marion is sitting there going [adopts her French accent], “You guys are like an old married couple.” So I’m like, “What movie do you think we’re making?" And Joaquin explains that the character is a manipulator from the very beginning of the movie and everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie. He says, “I think, sometimes he’s very nice to her and sometimes he’s very terrible and everything is a manipulation.” And I was like, "Wow," and that was a much more complex and interesting take on the character that we used.

So for direction you don’t do the “Good, but not interesting” thing anymore? [laughs] (Context: On the DVD extras for “The Yards” Charlize Theron has this hilarious anecdote about Gray’s direction back then which was, [she adopts his nasally voice], “Good, but not interesting.” Gray is appalled at himself in retrospect and Theron says that while harsh, in the end she appreciated his no bullshit feedback.)
I didn’t remember saying that, but it’s awful. Apparently I said on the set of my first and second movie, “That’s good, but not interesting. Do it again.” I’m not even sure what that means anymore. But I thought I was the greatest on the first movie. While I was shooting it I thought I had arrived. The first movie, I was 23, I thought I knew everything, but my ego soon took an irrevocable blow.

I was listening to the commentary on a few of your films recently…
You mean the DVD commentary? I can't stand doing them. To me it's like, "Let me explain to you what the movie means" and to me that's death. If I have to do that then I'll do it. But they're important to the people that make the DVDs. They're always like, “You have to do it!” Does Paul Thomas Anderson do them?

He stopped a long time ago. After “Boogie Nights” I think.
He stopped, right? Because Paul would be like, “I don't want to explain the movie and then ...”

Steven Soderbergh stopped doing them too, and you guys did “The Yards” together which is terrific.
He stopped doing them?

Yeah, and his were great. Yours, Soderbergh and Fincher’s were great too.
Finch's were good? I didn't know that Steven stopped doing them, but I'm thrilled to hear that Paul has stopped. I never even discussed commentaries with him, but knowing him I would guarantee to know that he'd think the same thing I do.

Speaking of Paul Thomas Anderson, he was one that suggested using Mark Wahlberg for “The Yards,” right?
Well, we've been close. I've known Paul for years and when did I meet him, 1992? Now you're making me wonder, when did I meet him? In fact I saw “Pulp Fiction” with Paul. That was in 1994. I went to the movies with him then so I obviously knew him by then. Anyway, why are we talking about this?

Paul recommended ...
Oh yes, what happened because I said I'm looking for an actor who's the salt of the earth, working class—like I need John Garfield or one of those guys. And he said, “Oh, I've just started working with Mark Wahlberg [for 'Boogie Nights'], I think you're going to think he's great.” I was like, “Marky Mark???” He said, “No, the guy's great,” and I met with Mark and I thought he was fantastic. I love Mark Wahlberg, I have nothing but great things to say about him.

He’s definitely underrated.
You know why? Because it's very hard for Mark to find movies that are good for him because they don't make them. They don't really make movies that call for [Marlon Brando’s character in “On The Waterfront”] in Hoboken. They call for him as an astronaut. And so Mark finds comedies now to do. If you saw “The Fighter” I thought his work in that was so underrated because it's not showy, which is not to denigrate Christian Bale, who was terrific, but it's a very earthy performance and it's not showy.

He does that especially in “We Own The Night.” Very restrained.
Yeah. I love what he does in the film because to me he removes the ego, the tough guy thing, and that's a courageous thing to do in a way.

Do you have a favorite, or least favorite of your films?
It's a little difficult, it's like saying you have a favorite child in a way, but there are films that I've made that are closer to what it is I had in mind than others. I think there are sequences in some of the films that I appreciate that I think I pulled off, but there are of course, unfortunately, many other stretches where I realized that I failed. That's an interesting question. I'm not just saying this because we're here to talk about this movie, but this film and “Two Lovers” I think are my best films. There are other people to this day who say, “Little Odessa” is my best. I think that's nuts. To me, it's about how close it is to what it is I had originally tried to convey in the first place. So I think the last two films are closest to who I am for good or for ill. That is what I'm trying to convey anyway.

That’s interesting because what separates “Two Lovers” and “The Immigrant” have gotten rid of their genre trappings.
You're right. That's not so much a product of artistic growth, but a product of being able to earn the place to do that. I never have decided to make only genre films starting out, but you can't start out making “Two Lovers.” If you did, nobody would make that film.

It was kind of your way in.
What happened was, the Russian gangster aspect of “Two Lovers” is what got it made initially. So “Two Lovers” was out, the Russian gangsters became a domestic drama, which is not interesting to anyone. So, “Two Lovers” was the reward I got for making “We Own the Night,” which did very well for the company which was called 2929; they were incredible to me. They said, "Here's 10 million dollars do what you want." Then that became “Two Lovers” which also afforded me the ability to make this film because “Two Lovers” wasn't a big money maker here in the U.S. but it did pretty well internationally, they all made their money back decently and especially in France and so the money came for this from France. So that has enabled me to do that.

Point of view is so crucial to you as a filmmaker and “The Immigrant” has a bold POV shift baton pass.
Oh, at the end? That was always the design for the film, because the idea was you were supposed to watch this film and think it was all about her and then at the end you realized that in a way [Joaquin’s character is] the one being redeemed.

It’s an interesting narrative idea. Pretty risky.
A great man, Mr. Francis Ford Coppola once said, “There's no art without risk.” But that's what you're talking about, that's a subversive thing that is not really—people don't really think about those things when they watch movies. So it's really a subversive or risky thing for me.

But don’t they notice it at least subconsciously? They might understand that this is ...
They probably realize it unconsciously, that's true. But it very rarely becomes part of the discourse unless it's somebody who's crazy enough to sit there and study the movie and watch it four or five times. Which that doesn't really happen usually. Most people don't watch a movie four or five times, they watch it once. So if you watch it once it's not going to be abundantly clear. You know the point of view thing starts to shift when he follows her to the church and listens in on her confession because then what happens is you begin to realize that something is playing with him, that she's burrowed her way into his brain.

The original title of the film is sort of based on his POV.
That's right. The original title of the film, “Lowlife,” was supposed to be a more general expression about these—you know like, “Who is the low life? Is it her? Is it him?” In the way it applies to the new title as well because they both talked about how they first came on a boat and they were very young, it's about everybody.

It brings things back to the idea that it could be a kind of “Little Odessa” prequel, though I imagine you’re a little tired of that idea.
But you know, I'm telling you a lot of it is unconscious I don't sit in the room and say I'm going to do this because it fulfills this part of the filmography. It so does not happen like that I can't tell you. What you do is you say, okay, what personal aspect can I reveal? And that's what winds up on the screen, hopefully, if you're lucky.

You certainly weren’t thinking that way back then.
“Little Odessa” is a little bit of a blur now. A lot of what the movie represents to me is my ignorance and my incompetence. I struggle now making, this is my fifth movie, and I struggle realizing how little I know about the process. So you can imagine what it was like when I was 23. But actually, I thought I was incredible.

Wes Anderson said that too. He said he had all the confidence in the world during the making of “Bottle Rocket” and then he saw the first edit and his ego deflated.
That's funny because I’m going to see him soon and I’m going to talk to him about that. But that’s exactly it. On “Little Odessa” I remember thinking, as I was shooting, “I’m incredible. I'm one of the great artists working today!” I'd go into dailies thinking, “It's masterful, it's incredible.” March 6, 1994, it was the end. I remember walking to the edit room thinking I'm going to watch the assembly and it's going to be one of the great films. It was so worthless; to this day my ego has not recovered.

The hard thing is to craft the story with elegance and emotion and honesty. Like if I look at the degree of difficulty, like an Olympic dive or something, what John Ford was doing or William Wyler it's so much harder than like what [Jean-Luc] Godard has done, which is not to say that Godard stinks at something, Godard has made incredible movies. But even he, I bet you, if you got him in a room would tell you that the storytelling skills of those 1940s guys is beyond what he could do and what we can do.

Now they had huge advantage in one respect. They had all of the actors under contract, so they could screen a film, realize the problems and then go, “We’ll steal Cary Grant off this movie and shoot this thing and then he can go back in the afternoon." It was all the studio system. So they routinely reshot a lot, which is something you never get to do now. So you have to work with the footage you've got, that makes story telling a little bit more difficult.

5 Key Cinematic Influences On “The Immigrant”

James Gray has a great wealth of knowledge about cinema and always converses about it with great passionately. Thus, I attempted to get him to talk about five key cinematic influences on “The Immigrant.” And in a candid Gray-like way, I think I failed to achieve the insight I was after, but here’s this part of the conversation nonetheless. But they could be summed up as Fellini’s “La Strada,” Robert Bresson’s “The Diary Of A Country Priest,” Robert Altman’s “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” Lina Wertmüller’s “Seven Beauties” and Carl Theodor Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" though a few other films are mentioned briefly too.

Movies that have superficial similarities, at least photographically might be Coppola’s “The Godfather Part II” and Eli Kazan’s “America, America,” but I suspect you looked elsewhere.
Well, to be honest with you neither of those films really figured into ... I mean they figured into the movie only in so far as there's Ellis Island in them.

James Gray On The Influence Of Fellini and “La Strada”
Yeah, I didn't really think about those movies at all. If you really want to know the movie that I steal from completely it's [Fellini’s] “La Strada.” I mean the movie's a complete rip off of “La Strada” except for the last third. But if you think about the plot of “La Strada” which of course Giulietta Masina is the essentially the indentured slave of Anthony Quinn and she meets the holy fool which is Richard Basshart—it's a very similar kind of dynamic.

The last third of [“The Immigrant”] becomes a little different but that was really the thing I stole from. It's a hybrid of neo-realism and this poetic realism that Fellini was beginning to experiment with and that film gives us the most beautiful thing I think: which is the idea that all human beings are worthy of our compassion and examination. Which is the most beautiful thing if you can achieve it that any movie can give I think. It's very democratic, it's ethical, it's beautiful and so that was one move that was a Fellini film.

Robert Bresson’s “Diary Of A Country Priest”
I wanted to do something that had a little bit a kind of austerity to it—that was from “Diary of a Country Priest” which was a Robert Bresson film. Because there's so much religion to this story. One of the things I discovered doing the research was how important religion was to so many of these people coming through Elis Island and particularly Polish Catholics and the Catholic religion has almost institutionalized this whore idea in its morality. And I was trying to address that very directly and also introduce a fairly new psychological idea which is the idea of exploring the idea of codependency, a relationship between a man and a woman which is totally destructive and the man and the woman both need each other and yet the fact that they need each other is the worst thing that could have happened to both of them.

This is a kind of post-war Alcoholics Anonymous idea of codependency but to apply it to a period film I found interesting. So you know there's so many things that go into making a film. So many different influences and in a way you just hope it winds up consistent.

Lina Wertmüller’s “Seven Beauties”
There was a Lina Wertmüller movie called the “Seven Beauties” which for some reason I remember being influenced by although I don't see much of it now but Giancarlo Giannini’s character which vaguely influenced Joaquin's character had a certain forced formality to it which is all an act. I mean the fact that he's in truth, completely self hating.

The movie is engineered for the ending. The idea is you're supposed really only gather the whole film from the end because I always found those to be extremely satisfying movie going experiences. You know where you're kind of watching it unsure will this all come together? Then when the ending comes it sort of hits you in a certain way and I always felt with Joaquin's character that you never could get a handle on him until the end when he in a sense confesses to. She sort of in a way baptizes him. Because she essentially says you’re not a nobody and he's able to finally bare his soul.

So in that sense you know the real influence of the movie, there are a couple films that we looked at. I also looked at “Nights of Cabiria,” the other Fellini film in the same time period which is 1957. You know, Kazan’s “America America” ends with that scene in Ellis Island but other than that there really isn't much similar about it. That's about you know a guy coming to the United States it's sort of a prequel to this movie you know the voyage. “Godfather II” you know it has that opening at Ellis Island but in story terms it's really you know obviously nothing alike.

The sepia look
Well, no. In look I stole from Vilmos Zsigmond, I thought a lot about “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” and also stole from the opening of “Heavens Gate” and there was a bit of Gordon Willis but I guess less so than you might think. It's hard to avoid seeming like you're stealing from [“Godfather” DP] Gordon Willis if you're doing that time period.

The influence of cinematographer Gordon Willis
It's hard to avoid it because he and Francis Coppola did that so perfectly but what you find is that a lot of their choices were kind of based on a history. For example the amount of particulate in the air in 1921—you know, burning coal and pollution was extremely heavy and under those circumstances—the sky would take on an orange or yellow hue and lighting was of course mostly from gas lamps. I mean there was electricity in a lot of places but a lot of it was gas lamps which of course burn a little bit more gold so than all of a sudden you find yourself doing this color palette and everyone says Gordon Willis; well it's there for a reason—they didn't have fluorescent lights in 1921.

Autochrome photography
Another influence we looked at were old photographs, which are these sort of fake color photographs—they’re called autochromes—from the early part of the last century and they're when dyes are applied to glass and it makes the photograph look like it's color but it's not really a photochemical color, it's sort of a manually applied thing on glass and they're quite extraordinary. Darius Khondji and I looked at a bunch of those and we sort of tried to copy the looks of those quite a bit and somehow it winds up being "Godfather II." So I guess I guess the influence and reach of that movie is so big with me.

Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc"
I can't believe I forgot to even mention it because we based the movie around her. I wrote the movie for [Marion Cotillard] and she has one of those faces that's like [Dreyer’s star Renée Jeanne] Falconetti. It's like a silent movie actress—she doesn’t have to say anything. There's so much compassion for her just by the way that she is, her soul. She radiates intelligence as well as physical beauty and god, that's the rarest quality and absolutely particular in the confession scene and stuff. The pained, anguish filled close-up.

It's very hard when you talk about Dryer and Bresson, it's like if you say that you’re copying from them it sounds so pretentious. It sounds like you think you’re as good as they are or whatever but that's not my attitude. My attitude is always steal from the best you know? And if you reinterpret it on your own it becomes something else, but it certainly was a huge influence because the power of those close-ups are just unmistakable. And there's so much emotion without any dialogue, it's amazing.

James Gray On "The Lost City Of Z" And Many Future Projects

In this section of our interviews, I essentially collated all the parts where Gray and I spoke about projects that have yet to be made like “The Lost City of Z,” his sci-fi project and more.

I’m curious because we haven’t really seen it before: what would a James Gray movie look like when it’s not set in New York?
Well, “The Immigrant” is set in New York but it’s really not. Because New York doesn’t look like that anymore, it’s all its own creation. So if you wonder what a film of mine would look like not in New York, I think I’ve already done it. We’ll see what comes next. I’m presently working on a science fiction project and I have huge hopes for that. And I’m beginning to work on “White Devil” for Warner Brothers [and] developing “The Lost City of Z” — [it's] a hard one to get made. It needs a star and Benedict Cumberbatch will be great [Robert Pattinson is also in the cast].

You’ve been making small inroads into television.
I just directed a pilot for Sundance Channel [“The Red Road”] and I had a good time doing it, but I’m not a creator on the show so it’s a little bit weird to me. I wanted to get back to work. I didn’t want to dwell on the release of “The Immigrant.” I’m thrilled with the fact that I can’t edit the show myself, score it myself, all those key decisions are out of my hands. I’m there simply to work with the actors and interpret material. I don’t even know what that show looks like. I think it’ll be pretty good.

I guess that would be the problem with you in television, it’s a writer/producer medium.
Right, but if you’re writing and producing it’s a great medium. David Fincher told me I should go do TV cause he had such a good experience on “House of Cards.” But I think he did it under different circumstances than I did, he had a lot of control. That’s not to say I regretted doing it.

Brad Pitt is circling two of your project isn’t he?
Like 700 of them. Or at least he was at one point. He’s been a big fan of mine but it’s never worked out with him. He has a complicated life and there’s a lot of moving parts to Brad’s schedule. He’s been very helpful to me.

Pitt was once attached to “The Lost City of Z.” Is there a flavor you’re going for?
Hopefully when we go into the jungle to film the movie will find its own language. It’s an epic movie and it’s very much in the 60mm epic style. That’s what the starting point will be, but I have a feeling it will get a little more hallucinatory than that. I have huge hopes and dreams for it. Adapting the book is difficult because you have to decide what to keep and what to let go. The main character, here’s a guy who did everything he could to fit in, and in the end maybe he didn’t, but he discovered something amazing. And that’s what something that moves me very much. That’s the thing that attracts me.

What’s “White Devil” about?
It’s a true story. This guy was a bouncer at a Boston night club, and he broke up a fight. One of them was an Asian gentleman, and he gave him his business card, and said you call me if you ever need anything. The bouncer was destitute, so he called him and within a year he was the highest ranking white guy in the Asian mafia. He learned Mandarin Chinese, married an Asian woman, adopted her daughter and basically appropriates the culture for his own. It’s a similar theme I’ve played with before. A guy rejected by his own who did everything he could to fit in elsewhere even though it was illegitimate.

Wasn't “We Own The Night” with Brad Pitt back in the day?
He contemplated doing it for a while. I've long sort of danced around things that he was going to do and he was dancing around things that I was going to do but it's never come to pass for one reason or another. Then yeah, when he decided not to do it and it was about to sort of get into mothballs where it never gets made. But I was very pleased to have made it the way that I finally did.

You had an assassin’s movie with him in the lead as well.
Oh, “The Gray Man,” yeah that's not going to happen [ed. Pitt unattached himself from the project last year and evidently Gray finally let this one go.]

That’s too bad, the POV approach sounded interesting. Are you still really trying to get your sci-fi film made?
I'm going to get that and “Lost City of Z” made. Those two are going to happen. I don't have a cast for the sci-fi project yet, I've only written one draft of it. It needs more work done to it, particularly in the last third of the script.

What's it called again?
Well right now the working title is “Ad Astra,” which means “To The Stars” in Latin. That's the working title, but it won’t be the final title. The number of great science fiction movies you could pretty much count on one hand. I'm not even a huge fan of Tarkovsky’s “Solaris,” in fact I think it's kind of one of his weaker movies. Conceptually, it's got great stuff in it.

But even “Stalker” has a little bit of a metaphysical sci-finess to it.
That's true. But I don't love “Solaris,” I feel like it's a little bit corny [pause]. But far be it for me to judge Tarkovsky. I sound like a complete jerk. That's the way I feel about it, I would say “2001” obviously, which I think is a really obvious or amazing movie and certainly “Blade Runner” I love, and I love “Metropolis.” But once you've named those three where else do you go? Then people say to me what about “Alien”? I say, “I think ‘Alien’ is terrific,” but I also think it's a horror movie. I don’t think it's a science fiction movie, I think it's a horror movie set in space.

So, what are you after exactly?
Well, I’ll tell you what happens mostly: we filmmakers all fall into the same trap which is to blow your mind at the end. Which is not possible. Audiences have seen everything, there's nothing that's going to be “awe-inspiring.” What happens really is that you have to come up with something conceptually amazing, not visually amazing. And that's a challenge. It's a challenge and I don't want to make the film unless I think I've gotten it right. Now by the way, it's probably likely that I'll make the film and I'll have blown it anyway but at least I want to be able to think that I haven’t blown it going in and I'm almost there feeling good about where I am on the narrative of that one, but I'm not there yet.

Where is “Lost City Of Z” going to shoot?
That would shoot in the U.K., probably Belfast, and Colombia. That's got Benedict Cumberbatch who's perfectly cast. I've raised the money for that, and I've raised the money for that and I may go do that in January.

The jungle sequences in Colombia?
Probably Colombia because they have—the lead character, he was actually in Brazil and Bolivia, but you can't possibly shoot there. The infrastructure, there's no ... when I went down there there's nothing there. Even Werner Herzog shot in Peru. Whereas when I went to scout in Bolvia—I mean you couldn’t shoot there. So, it looks like Colombia is a real option because it's the correct vegetation, it's the Amazon, it's a jungle, it's also got mountains and it's got indigenous peoples who are correct for the movie. So it looks like it's going to be there and then the U.K. segment is tough because London has really nothing going for it that is correct in terms of 1905.

Last time we spoke you mentioned it may have a David Lean-esque quality to it.
Yes, although David Lean is of course a major figure but ... people have asked me about “Apocalypse Now” and those kind of movies. Of course those are all great and they’re a huge inspiration and so is Lean. But I’m really trying, the older I get and believe me my lower back tells me how much older I'm getting, I'm trying to forget the kind of approach which I've had. On the last two movies I've watched far fewer movies beforehand and I'm trying to come at the pieces as organically as I can and not think of other movies. Now of course unconsciously that shit's always going to come out, I'm always going to rip off something.


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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #12 on: May 15, 2014, 09:04:53 PM »
oh hell yeah


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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2014, 10:59:24 PM »
Love that comparison between the actors. Poor Joaquin though, forever uncertain of his own talent.


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Re: The Immigrant
« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2014, 06:14:39 PM »
Love & Sincerity: A Conversation with James Gray
5 October 2013
By Adam Cook
via Mubi

James Gray's reception in North America is a little bewildering, regardless of which side you stand on. To some, including this author, Gray's qualities as a filmmaker are obvious. Decidedly at odds with the trends of contemporary cinema since he made his debut with Little Odessa in 1994 (something discussed in the following interview), Gray's so-called "classical" style is invested in things seemingly forgotten in American movies. He stands outside of the present, yet it is far too simple to say he comes out of the past. Aside from Clint Eastwood, is there another director working in Hollywood making subtle, emotional, expertly-crafted dramas while also maintaining a delicately mannered mise en scène? Because of this, Gray seems out of place. Maybe that explains the lack of Cannes awards on his shelf (despite four trips to the festival's competition), the dissenting reviews (which don't even appear to be written on the same films), and his uncertain placing in both mainstream and cinephile circles. Gray's films are simply not cut out for "the moment", but rather are suited for a more generous future as other films around Gray's date more quickly and his appear more prepared to stand the test of time. His latest film, The Immigrant, as I mention in the following interview, is both structurally and stylistically distinct from his previous work, yet inextricably bound to it. One of the best compliments one can perhaps give to a filmmaker, James Gray's films work beautifully on their own, but put together enrich each other and add up to more than the sum of their parts. A modest oeuvre of five films twenty years in the making, each are made carefully, lovingly, sincerely, with the sort of emotional weight and dramatic and visual craft rarely afforded melodramas in these so-called post-modern times.

For more on The Immigrant, see the dialogue I had with Daniel Kasman about it during Cannes. I also have a piece on the film in Cinema Scope 55.


This conversation took place on June 23rd, 2013 in Los Angeles. Although specific spoilers are omitted, some brief, explicit discussion of The Immigrant remains. At my discretion, I've included one warning preceding a passage that may divulge too much detail for those yet to see the film. The Immigrant premieres at the New York Film Festival on Sunday, October 6th, and screens again on October 9th.

ADAM COOK: There are several aspects of The Immigrant that distinguish it from your prior work, the most obvious being that it has a female protagonist, something which changes the shape of your film. Could you talk about making that change, in terms of its conception and on the impact it had on what direction you take with the film overall?

JAMES GRAY: The idea of making it about a woman and told through a woman’s point of view came from an opera I had seen: Puccini’s Il Trittico, which is a triptych, the second part of which was Suor Angelica, directed by Bill Friedkin for the L.A. opera. It seemed very emotionally direct and I was very excited by that. It seemed very disinterested in anything macho, and I was anxious to get away from gunplay and all that, and even Two Lovers was sort of spiraling up a man’s ass. I was just amazed even when I went to Cannes in 2009 when I was part of the jury, and also when I was on the jury in Marrakech last year, you see all these movies and none of them has a woman in the lead role. There were so few films starring women and you think to yourself that’s most of the population. I just sensed that there was an ability to make something emotionally very honest, and for reasons that are cultural of course, not anything else, that’s always associated more with the feminine side. It was just my way of getting easy access to that mood, that mode of expression. Everything I’ve done and everything that has been done that I find interesting has been a move, as close as possible, to emotional identification. I’ve said it before: authentic emotion, the most direct way to our emotional core. Anything that gets in the way of that, I find harmful. So, knowing that this is the natural course I’d like to take my films it seems that anything that gets in the way of that I’d like to get rid of and that anything that endorses or makes—how do I say this—

COOK: —The least amount of distance—

GRAY: —The least amount of distance. If you are—you know they’ve said of me that I’m a classicist but I don’t know what the hell that means, but if you like reading “old things” and you like listening to old music and all that, what you find over and over again, is that it is a very good barometer of what works long term, and what does not really work long term is the kind of obsessive search for what is fresh. It becomes the raison d’etre for the work of art and as opposed to being original simply because it comes from you and there’s only one of you; it becomes a gimmick and it becomes the least interesting thing to watch 10, 15 years down the road. As pompous as this sounds—it is pompous, pretentious, it’s arrogant, of course it’s arrogant if you want to be a filmmaker, it’s an arrogant thing to want to be because you’re saying to yourself: “I’m going to raise millions of dollars to say what it is what I want to say and people should be interested”. That’s an arrogant thing, but arrogant though it may be you want to hopefully make something that people can watch 5, 10, 30 years from now and still get an emotional reaction from.

COOK: All of your films have had an honest, emotional surface, but The Immigrant, moves toward something even more subjective narratively and in the compositions. You bring us closer to the protagonist’s feelings, and spirit, than in your other films—and you make the motivations of the other characters more discreet.

GRAY: That’s true. It’s the way she would perceive it, right? I find it a very male-centric thing to say that we don’t know what motivates Jeremy Renner. But we would never watch a movie which stars a guy and question what motivates the third female lead. You don’t watch Raging Bull and wonder what motivates Cathy Moriarty. It’s all about the male gaze. So you’ll notice that the people that would complain about this lack of clarity are men, because the whole idea is that it’s how she would see the world.

COOK: Which leads into the specific way you present the period setting of the film. We don’t see a romantic, sweeping look at 1921 New York. There are no obvious gestures that cue us in, we see New York through her eyes.

GRAY: If you look at New York back then, Little Italy was nearby, and so was Chinatown, but you didn’t go there. It was extremely dangerous and you lived in a one or two block radius and you did all your shopping in carts in that radius. That was your world.

COOK: Other period films bend over backwards to try and show you a little bit of everything.

GRAY: Right, and that’s the thing, we didn’t want to be ethnographic. I wanted it to be from her point of view, until the end, and the reason for that is a very religious idea, that in a way she delivers Bruno, she forgives him no matter how awful he’s been and that even he can be redeemed, so that the film had to end with him, because she has passed this torch of forgiveness in a way. See, forgiveness, the interesting idea about it, people say “how could you forgive so and so, he or she did such a horrible thing” and my own thing is that forgiveness empowers the person who does the forgiving. If a holocaust survivor forgives a Nazi, it doesn’t empower the Nazi, it empowers the victim. The victim has the power to do that. The whole idea was that she would have this power. For me it was the only way it could end, and then there is a point of view change, but for the rest of the movie you’re quite right and it was intentionally so. It was that way because the way that the cinema works, at least for me, it can capture the most personal details, though it’s not often used for this, it’s used for explosions, at least in the mainstream pictures, but it has such a power for intimacy. And I’m not talking about close-ups, which is not the same thing, though it’s a wonderful weapon, but only if you use it sparingly. If every shot is a close-up it doesn’t matter anymore.

COOK: Which is a problem in contemporary cinema.

GRAY: It stops having an impact. The camera has an incredibly revelatory power, it can almost see through the actor. So you want to take advantage of what it is that the medium does, it can’t be done on stage, it’s not even producible on TV.

COOK: Capturing minute gestures.

GRAY: Yes, so the point of view thing was all about trying to get the most intimate, personal approach I could to her character. Who knows if these things succeed? And to do it in a format that is considered classical—which I think is bullshit; it just means the story functions. Literally. I mean, sometimes I get the sense these other filmmakers are not telling stories not because they don’t want to but because they can’t do it. It’s all about craft. It’s not a measure of genius or artistry; it’s craft, learning how to tell a story.

COOK: Godard said the French couldn’t tell stories.

GRAY: He’s sort of wrong in a way because his greatest work always tells a great story.

COOK: The Immigrant almost feels like a prequel to your other films, which each told the story of a man who couldn’t escape the stranglehold of his familial bonds, and here we see the origin of those family ties and come to understand their significance and what made them something so embedded in the lives of your other protagonists. Do you recognize this as well?

GRAY: I’ve never thought of that until you just mentioned it. Interesting, it makes sense. I guess all one tries to do is mine your own life and try to explore as much as you can what it is that made you you. Hopefully then, something textured and nuanced and emotional comes out of it. I had stolen tons of these stories from my grandparents and so forth. It makes sense now that you say it. It wasn’t conscious.

COOK: I look at something like the gestures shared between characters, the tragic binding power of family and the power of specific moments like Faye Dunaway reaching out to Mark Wahlberg in The Yards, and I see the origins of those moments in The Immigrant. We see why they’re so powerful, we see the struggle they came from.

GRAY: I hadn’t thought about that.

COOK: It adds up to say something about the American family and society.

GRAY: But it’s impossible to look at that for me. You can’t, cause if you do you get a kind of global overview of the character and the world and you start to think thematically—which you can’t help to do a little but not on that scale—then it’s up your own ass and in a way that lends itself to condescension. You have to believe in minutiae.

COOK: Right, and your movies work on this level because they take a microcosmic approach and the macro is left entirely to implication.

GRAY: I think it has to be that way. We don’t have a global view of the way we exist.

COOK: We have a view like Marion Cotillard’s Ewa does.

GRAY: Yeah, exactly right, and we don’t know what’s going to happen a few scenes from now. You could walk out and I could slip on a banana peel and break my arm and spend the night in the hospital, or I could just go to bed after flossing and brushing my teeth. In a movie, the actor knows what’s coming and the director does, “you’re going to slip and fall on the banana peel”, so it lends itself harmfully to the wall, the distance I’m trying to remove.

COOK: If you over-think it, the wall ends up being there.

GRAY: It can’t not be, because the whole idea of the wall, as I’ll call it, is putting on a show—and you don’t want to put on a show, you want to try and express yourself in the most direct, pure, unadulterated, moment to moment, honest way you can. It’s actually about being as honest as you can be.

COOK: So the ideas can’t precede the emotions.

GRAY: Of course, so if that’s the case then you have to work moment by moment. Some people can do it; you sense that Bresson could do both without being condescending. But that’s a different style.

COOK: You mentioned how your family history informed the film, so why is Ewa Polish Catholic and not Russian Jewish?

GRAY: For several reasons, although Bruno is Russian Jewish. There were big quotas that came into play in the 20s and I found out that the most of the Polish immigrants were Catholic. So it started out being just something from historical basis. I could have done it but then I wanted a character who felt out of place culturally in the milieu in which she was set. I wanted a character that would not be able to bond with the other women or fit in with the community.

COOK: Completely alienated.

GRAY: Yes and then I thought “well maybe I keep her Polish Catholic because that will keep her in a box and also that Bruno might have done that on purpose because it would’ve been easier for him to control her.” …It also seemed to fit with theme of the film, which was a very Franciscan idea, that everything has a purpose; I’m not a believer, I’m an atheist but I believe in God for art. The whole idea of God is silly on a practical level but art is the religion for secular people and what it’s really about is trying to organize facts, incidents and emotions and make it somehow inform our lives and give them meaning and so the use of God is almost a kind of substitute for…

COOK: —something else.

GRAY: Something else. It’s not the filmmaker believing in God, it was the reality of those people, who would’ve been incredibly religious. I’m not sure if people got that, judging from the little bit of writing I’ve read from Cannes. We’ve become so secular that I think it’s hard for people to understand. We were talking about the dilemma of the character forced into this life in order to save her sister and it’s like: “it’s a no-brainer, dude, just do it,” but if your whole life has been brought up a certain way…

COOK: It goes against the core of your being.

GRAY: Right and you’re having sex with someone for money but you’re shaming yourself before God which is the most important thing in your life, there’s nothing worse, there’s no bigger conflict. It would torture them, it would torture this character.

COOK: You’ve mentioned Diary of a Country Priest as one of the main influences for The Immigrant. What specifically about it inspired you? Some of it is obvious, I suppose. The closeness to character.

GRAY: Certainly that and a kind of silent film pathos and austerity…

COOK: Something transcendent?

GRAY: A clear-eyed and transcendent core. But, but, and this is the thing that amazes me about what Bresson is able to do: even though his films are tragic there’s something, a kind of epiphany, they’re not depressing…

COOK: They’re affirming.

GRAY: They’re life affirming, it’s amazing what he can do.

COOK: A Man Escaped, too.

GRAY: For me it was always Diary and Au hasard Balthazar. Life affirming doesn’t mean good things happen.

COOK: It can still be realistic, even somber.

GRAY: Life-affirming and authentic. And even I softened it a bit because if I had made it exactly the way those people’s lives were, it would’ve almost been piling it on. People had rampant cases of typhus and rats were pervasive in the tenements. But it’s not the point of the film. That, by the way is also a very in vogue thing for art cinema, a very ethnographic or anthropological approach. A historian’s distance, which to me is not interesting. I wanted stay as close to the actors’ emotions as I could.

COOK: You’ve said you used something from Diary of a Country Priest?

GRAY: A shot. When she backs into the confessional, turns to us and looks into the camera and goes into the dark, which is a shot from Diary where a girl goes into the confessional and you only see her face, it’s just me stealing a shot.

COOK: There’s a rhyming going on there, isn’t there? With recurring bifurcated compositions at the confessional and again at the end with the mirror and window. There’s another one too. It establishes that Ewa and Bruno are on separate paths. The confessional is where he realizes he’s lesser then her, and that they can’t ever be together.

GRAY: Oh yeah, that’s there, of course. The confession was meant to be that. Though he’s not lesser, he just thinks he’s nothing. He’s filled with self-loathing, which is not the same as self-pity, which he has none of, just self-hatred. He just keeps doing what he’s doing and he can’t help it. It’s how he survives.

COOK: It’s also one of the only scenes where it breaks from Ewa’s point-of-view. When Bruno follows Ewa and enters the church, and looks up at the ceiling you cut to his POV for just the second time after the opening shot of the film.

GRAY: That’s because at a certain point you have to start feathering that in to prepare for the end. Although, maybe it’s a flaw—

COOK: —I think it makes sense because even though it’s his POV, it’s her territory, the church. It’s not his trajectory, it’s hers still, and he’s finally recognizing it.

GRAY: It’s his introduction to her world and his redemption.

COOK: Your choice to include and exclude certain details is really interesting, in terms of what happens in the narrative. You don’t show much of the domestic life.

GRAY: It would’ve halted the storyline and broken the emotional through line. You get hints.

COOK: Also, you don’t focus on the prostitution, it’s mostly implied, you don’t show—

GRAY: —hot immigrant on immigrant action. [laughs] That’s all peripheral to the film. Narrative is all about the delivery of information and what is delivered when. If the film is made with a modicum, or at least, illusion of control, what you’re going to do is provide to the audience the information that you think is relevant to the theme. This is a problem, by the way, because you set up expectations, and if the film does not fulfill them, sometimes people get frustrated, but that to me is irrelevant because what your job is, is to say “here is the theme and I am going to illustrate it and show what I want to show,” it doesn’t mean you think you’re God, it means the story is told to feature the things that are important. You’re told that she sells her body for money, you don’t have to see it, it would be gratuitous or giving the audience what it wants. You shouldn’t give the audience what it wants, you can’t. In some sense, it’s your job to infuriate the audience, to provoke them. Giving them what they want is cowardice. The whole point is to give the audience what it needs.

COOK: This is your first collaboration with Darius Khondji. What’s it like working with different cinematographers yet working towards the same personal style?

GRAY: I hate working with different cinematographers. If I could, I’d work with one person. Joaquín Baca-Asay, who did We Own the Night and Two Lovers, was very good but he wanted to go off and direct. Harris Savides was fantastic, but he was attached to other pictures and got sick and has now passed away. So I have to find someone I can keep working with, who wants to do that and I love Darius, his sensibility, his taste, and I love him as a person. The problem with taking on a new cinematographer is I always feel I have to indoctrinate them a little bit. I have to tell them what I like and what my taste is about, as opposed to a shorthand you develop over time—like I have with Joaquin Phoenix. I don’t really have to tell him anything; I almost never have to talk to him. I would love to have that situation with a cinematographer but I haven’t been so lucky. I’d love to keep working with Darius, if he’ll have me, but we’ll see.

COOK: You’re quoted as saying The Immigrant is the best thing you’ve done. You’re a humble guy, so I have to ask—does this statement come from a critical position on your prior work? How do you look at it differently, as a film and as a personal success?

GRAY: I think it’s the best thing I’ve done, but it doesn’t mean that somebody who disagrees is wrong, it means that the only way I can measure it is against what I originally had in mind and wanted to express and how clearly it wound up being related. Now, people might not like that. Or that may bore them. But this and Two Lovers are the only pictures I’ve made where I felt at the end of the experience, it’s coming close to what I’m trying to express.

COOK: Whereas with The Yards, you faced difficulties, it changed a lot structurally.

GRAY: It was a big fight, and I had issues with the script as it was structured and We Own the Night was my first film in so long and it was also a struggle, I didn’t have enough time or money. And my first movie I was only 23 years old so I didn’t know what was going on. I do think The Immigrant is the best film I’ve made, it has the most scope emotionally, and Cotillard’s performance in the center of it is really something special, and I love Joaquin in it, and Jeremy is great. It doesn’t mean I’m right. I am haunted by my failures, no question.

COOK: Which failures?

GRAY: There are so many. I can only tell you that when I screened Little Odessa in Le Forum des Images in Paris, I was supposed to stay for a Q&A and I figured I should watch the movie. I hadn’t seen it since 1995 and could barely remember it. I stayed for five minutes and I was so appalled I had to get the fuck out of there. You see your mistakes and things you would change. Why did I put the camera there and not here, this would be better. I’m not really qualified to say what works or doesn’t. There are things in each movie that I really like and there are things in each movie that I can’t stand.

COOK: You said about Two Lovers that each character has a chance to be understood and loved; do you feel the same way about The Immigrant?

GRAY: By like a hundred times more, I think.

COOK: Despite the discreetness of the characters?

GRAY: I think so, because the only thing you need to know about these characters is that the daily struggle is for people to do the best they can to survive, and I think that’s clear in the movie. Bruno is doing the best he can in his own, pathetic way—and I’m not endorsing his behavior—and Ewa recognizes his self-loathing and sees this. You can’t ask a chimpanzee to sing Nessun Dorma from Turandot. You can’t ask somebody who’s not capable of feeling the way you need them to feel, being the way you need them to be, you can’t ask that of them. In the case of Renner, we do know quite a bit about him. He’s self-destructive, a gambler and a drunk. We also know that he has done this before to another woman that Joaquin was involved with. But we also know he can fucking levitate. We also know that in the worst place that Ewa has been in in her life, he gives her a rose and shows her that there’s something transcendent out there. He gives her hope. In that way, even though he’s mysterious, he’s the holy fool, he can still show her the way even though he himself is flawed. Even the other hookers have their own position that makes sense.

COOK: You can hint at it.

GRAY: It’s the best you can do.

COOK: Going back to the idea that film feels like a prequel to your other work, at the beginning, Ewa turns to her sick sister and says “we will have families and have lots of children.” For me, it’s the key line.

GRAY: It’s important. It’s about establishing hopes and dreams, and the greater implication is that one day she’ll do just that.

COOK: It’s an optimistic movie.

GRAY: I think it is but you know, it’s funny, I guess I have a very Slavic and depressing tone to me because I thought that the ending was upbeat, and people have said to me it’s the most tragic ending….“What are you talking about?

COOK: I think it’s your first ending that isn’t tragic.

GRAY: I think you’re right.

COOK: At the same time though, the implication, for me, isn’t all optimism. Here we see this struggle that is rewarded with the chance to establish these hopes and dreams, but as your other films have shown, these hopes and dreams have consequences. That these familial bonds contain within them negative and positive power.

GRAY: Right. That’s all true, you’re saying it now and I understand completely, but it was not always thus. I never thought about that. I never thought about the other films.

COOK: You can’t.

GRAY: You can’t.

COOK: At the end of the credits, there’s a lingering ambiance that must carry on for thirty seconds after the credits have rolled.

GRAY: I’ve done that on every film. We Own the Night it goes on for two minutes. I like to make sure the audience is left, ultimately, with the sound that first made me feel the mood of the piece. In this case, I remember going to Ellis Island in 1976 and hearing those seagulls and the surf. The Yards ends with the sound of the subway, Two Lovers ends with the surf of Brighton Beach, We Own the Night is the prison. It’s my own personal way of signing off with this stage of my life. This is where I was at this part of my life and this was the mood I was trying to impart to you and it’s coming full circle. That sounds really pretentious, but it’s the truth.

COOK: Where does this fixation with family come from? It makes sense in that it’s an essential dramatic theme, but there has be something personal behind it.

GRAY: It’s the most important thing in my life. I’ve got a wife and kids, which is a fairly recent development, I got married late and had children late. Before that, you’re trying to reach out to the most important personal connections—that’s my brother, my father, and then my mother is third on that chain, not because I didn’t care about her but she died a long time ago. So then you start to experiment with how you can express the strangeness within your own family dynamic. In the films, I talk a lot about my relationship with my brother, my father, my mother who’s dead or dying…It’s all the same dynamic in my own family. It’s my way of putting myself into the films as much as I can so it has relevance and emotional truth. Not the truth, but a truth. The truth is for assholes who can’t invest in a tripod. What you’re saying when you do that is “I’m going to show you the truth.”


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