CANNES, France (AP) — James Gray's sincere melodrama "The Immigrant" has divided the Cannes Film Festival not for its politics or its audaciousness, but for its sentimentality.
Gray's 1920s Ellis Island tale, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard, has been called the most divisive film at this year's Cannes, where it premiered in competition Friday night. He made it, he says, aspiring to "the absolute commitment to the emotion of the moment."
"It's very unhip, by the way, to do that," Gray said in an interview Saturday at a hotel on the Croisette. "There is no postmodern irony, which I'm sure is totally infuriating to some. What lasts is what we're talking about. What lasts is extending our sympathies. That, to me, is what lasts."
Cotillard stars as a Polish immigrant who arrives at New York's Ellis Island (shot on location) in 1921 with her sister. After her sister is sent to the infirmary, Cotillard's character is taken in by a pimp (Phoenix), who puts her to work in his cabaret show.
Predictions for "The Immigrant," which the Weinstein Co. will release at an unknown date, have ranged from Oscar glory to awards afterthought. In Gray's classical, handsomely photographed approach, inspired by Puccini's "Suor Angelica" opera, critics have either gone with its intimate story of American passage, or they haven't.
Gray, whose films include "We Own the Night" and "Little Odessa," has become accustomed to dividing audiences. His reputation for years was greater in France than in his native United States.
That has gradually ebbed, but the baritone, intense Gray still feels somewhat out of step in a culture rife with irony and detachment.
"I don't think they're right," says Gray. "I think they're wrong. I think in the long run, the embracing of a kind of distancing, distanced, condescending approach to characterization, broken up — that's all bull----. And I think history will judge it terribly."