May 1, 2008 -- This ultra slow-moving Italian film about a Sicilian family, the Mancusos, who journey to America to seek the promised land, is almost devoid of drama, but it has a lot to say about the current immigration debate in the U.S. and other countries. Filmed like a documentary, the story opens with a breathtaking ascent of a mountain by two men of the Mancuso family, barefoot and holding rocks in their mouths. The widowed Salvatore Mancuso (played by Vincenzo Amato) and his son are dirt poor and desperate. They are looking for answers. They are also looking for a way out. They reach the summit and deposit their rocks at the foot of a cross, and wait for divine guidance. Another son, the mute Pietro (Filippo Pucillo) arrives soon after with photos of giant vegetables from America. God has spoken, the family sells its meager possessions and heads off to the United States. The film is set during the early 20th Century.
The film's story is advanced using very little dialog. The film's cinematography by Agnès Godard is breathtaking at times, especially early on during exterior scenes. The family ends up with several additional people in their party, a couple of mail order brides and an English woman, Lucy Reed (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is looking for at least a temporary husband so she can gain entry into the United States. The courtship between Salvatore and Lucy is both very formal and restrained to the point of being almost non-existent. Their marriage vows are spoken at Ellis Island, along with the mail order couples and others. The immigrant applicants are poked and prodded, given verbal and manual intelligence tests and physical examinations. At one point, the family's matriarch, Fortunata Mancuso (Aurora Quattrocchi) questions the authority of the Americans to split up her family. She asks if the Americans think they are gods. In the end, the family is split up with Fortunata and Pietro being declared unfit for entry into the United States. The gods have spoken. The interior shots at Ellis Island are very impressive, as are the Ellis Island sets.
Now, about 100 years later, the descendants of those same immigrants are demonizing the immigrants from Mexico and South America as being unfit for entry into the United States. New immigration policies are splitting up immigrant families. It seems that illegal immigrants into the United States are about the only ones aware that the United States is made up mostly of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Times change, but people don't. This film rates a C+. P.S. This was one of the last films made by the well-known actor and gourmet cook Vincent Schiavelli (“Ghost”) who plays a marriage broker in this film.
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