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Cannes: Oscar-Worthy Cotillard and Director Gray Talk Divisive 'The Immigrant'

Thompson on Hollywood By Brian Brooks | Thompson on Hollywood May 25, 2013 at 3:51PM

Characteristic of a number of Cannes competition titles, "The Immigrant" has divided audiences though its morning screening Friday did not receive the audible Boos that greeted the credit roll of "Only God Forgives" the day prior. An unscientific poll of random inquiries by badge holders here who have seen the film suggests that it has won over more moviegoers than not.
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The Immigrant
Renner, Gray, Cotillard of 'The Immigrant'
Renner, Gray, Cotillard of 'The Immigrant'

Characteristic of a number of Cannes competition titles, "The Immigrant" has divided audiences, although its morning screening Friday did not receive the audible boos that greeted the credit roll of "Only God Forgives" the day before. A poll of random badge holders who saw the film suggests that it has won over more moviegoers than not.

And Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard, who Gray said was "just made to be a movie star," has received near universal praise for her role in the film as the young Polish émigré Ewa, even from "Immigrant" detractors. Harvey Weinstein will likely try to fetch Cotillard a second gold statue.

To be sure, the part was a challenge. Cotillard had 20 script pages of Polish to learn -- and for her character to be believable, she had to pull it off without a discernible accent (her Slavic skills seemed to pass muster).

"There aren't a lot of Polish words that resemble French or English," said Cotillard in Cannes Friday. "But I had no choice. When you speak Polish with an accent that would be one thing, but I had to speak it with no accent so that put a lot of pressure on me. I could tell when I was making a mistake, but when I was doing it right, I didn't now if I was perfect. It was a bit unsettling."

She added: "Body language and language is part of the whole. I like to create characters that have their own way of walking and speaking. It's true when you have to learn a new language it helps you create a new character. You position yourself differently and pitch it differently than English and French. So yes this helps to build up a character that's different for me."

Gray wrote the 1920s-era script with the late Richard Menello, to whom he paid an emotional tribute during a conversation with press ahead of the film's world premiere. "He was like the 'Human Movie Shazam,'" said Gray. "When I started writing 'Two Lovers,' I used him as a resource. I'd ask him for advice and he knew just everything. At the end he had helped me write that script, and he absolutely deserved a credit. But he's gone and I miss him."

In the film, Cotillard plays Ewa, who arrives at Ellis Island with her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) hoping to make their way in the New World. Their hopes for a smooth segue into the shores of the American dream, however, are short lived. Doctors notice Magda is coughing and immediately quarantine her for TB. Distraught that her sister has been taken away, Ewa nevertheless heads to an immigration official who inquires about her "loose morals" while on board the ship crossing and is sent to a holding area where she will likely be sent back to Europe.

This article is related to: The Immigrant, James Gray, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner, Joaquin Phoenix


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.