Those Tired, Those Poor: A Journey as Important as Its Destination: Golden Door (Movie review)

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In its basic outline the story told in “Golden Door,” Emanuele Crialese’s beautiful dream of a film, is hardly unfamiliar. Some version of this immigrant’s tale — setting out from the old country, crossing the Atlantic in steerage, arriving at Ellis Island — is part of the family history of millions of Americans. But what makes Mr. Crialese’s telling unusual, apart from the gorgeousness of his wide-screen compositions, is that his emphasis is on departure and transition, rather than arrival.

His film takes its English title from the Emma Lazarus poem about the Statue of Liberty, but the lady in the harbor, like the rest of America (apart from Ellis Island), remains unseen as the director takes us up to the door but not through it. The Italian title, “Nuovomondo,” means “new world,” but this too is a bit misleading. It is the Old World that dominates this chronicle of Italian peasants striking out for a future they can barely imagine, and the achievement of the movie is to immerse the modern viewer in a way of perceiving the world that has nearly been forgotten. You may have looked at stiff, yellowing pictures of ancestors from a century ago and wondered what they thought and felt, and it is this kind of curiosity that “Golden Door” comes remarkably close to satisfying.

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