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Friday, June 22, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Award-winning "Golden Door" paints immigration tale with magic

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review3.5 stars


Showtimes

"Golden Door," with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vincenzo Amato, Aurora Quattrocchi, Francesco Casisa, Filippo Pucillo, Federica de Cola, Isabella Ragonese. Written and directed by Emanuele Crialese.

118 minutes. Rated PG-13 for brief graphic nudity. In Italian and English, with English subtitles where necessary.

The winner of multiple awards at last year's Venice International Film Festival, Emanuele Crialese's film (first seen here last month at the Seattle International Film Festival) could be described as an immigration drama, in which a Sicilian family travels to America in the early years of the 20th century. That's an accurate recap, but it doesn't begin to evoke the imagination behind this often beautiful study in magic realism, whose characters swim in icy rivers of milk and revel in a sparkling shower of coins from a night sky.

Crialese (best known for "Respiro") fills "Golden Door" with unexpected, confident choices, such as the use of the joyous Nina Simone anthem "Feeling Good" for the characters' arrival at Ellis Island, as they and the other immigrants are processed in tidy rows.

In Sicily, the widower Salvatore (Vincenzo Amato, who has starred in all three of Crialese's films) lives with his family on a harsh, fantastical landscape; it's as if they're camping on a rocky hill. Haunted by dreams of plenty, he decides to bring his two sons and elderly mother to the New World.

Thus begins their journey, in which they are joined by a mysterious English-speaking woman named Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to whom Salvatore is drawn. Gainsbourg, the fine French/British actress who has perhaps the most determined chin in movies (outside of Reese Witherspoon, that is), gives Lucy a way of coolly surveying her surroundings; it's as if she's staring at the future, ready to face whatever it may bring.

The journey is not an easy one, nor is the arrival — the New World brings questions without answers, and its welcome is not the stuff dreams are made of. But Crialese ends his film on an exquisite note of fantasy: an indelible image of hope and good fortune. His vision is unique; his film, strange and lovely.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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