The Golden Door

Issue section: 

Director: Emanuele Crialese

Postcards picturing chickens as large as pigs and plate-sized golden coins growing on trees in the new world across the Atlantic reach a wind-beaten village in Sicily at the beginning of the 20th century. Salvatore (Vincenzo Amato), a farmer whose family has tilled the stony land for generations, sees them as a sign to pack up his home, two sons and old mother, to head for the boat that will take them away from drudgery forever.

The Golden Door is a slow-moving feature that would almost be boring without the beautifully unreal images Salvatore conjures up about the US - a place where he harvests tree-high carrots and innocently swims in California's milk filled rivers with a middle class English woman, brilliantly played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who he meets before boarding the boat.

But the film is worth seeing because its political point about migration is as relevant today as it was back then and director Emanuele Crialese makes it without frills. It's one thing to sell your goats and then survive the journey over the ocean but it's quite another to pass the various tests allowing you into the country - tests that can be compared to the English tests New Labour proposes to inflict upon immigrants to Britain today.

Immigration officers on the shores of the US not only check the thousands of Italian arrivals for lice, but also decide if people from the old world are fit enough to enter the new by asking trick questions ("You're in a sinking boat - which bag do you throw overboard, the one with gold or the one with bread?") and deporting "below average" people because, according to the science of the time, they infect US citizens with the contagious disease of "low intelligence".

In other words, the fat chickens are only for those strong and "smart" enough to work in the promised land.