The film focuses on the emigration of the Mancuso family from their hometown in Sicily, Italy to New York — the land of golden-paved roads that promises a new life and an array of opportunities.
The family’s hunger to travel to America is further fueled when they discover photographs of what America has to offer: onions the size of houses, carrots as tall as trees, flowing rivers of milk and golden coins that flourish on trees like flowers.
Upon seeing this exciting vision of a new land, the widowed patriarch of the family, Salvatore Mancuso (Vincento Amato), makes the brave decision to leave the Old Country behind to embark on a journey to the new Promised Land, America. He hopes to make a new life there along with his stubborn and feeble-minded mother as well as his two sons, one of which is deaf and mute.
Aboard the ship Salvatore meets Lucy Reed (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a young and attractive English gentlewoman, who is also in desperate need of a new start in America.
What sets Lucy apart from the rest of the immigrants on the ship is her fiery red hair, the fact that she’s an English woman traveling among Italians to the New World and her lack of a husband — a fact that proves to be quite problematic in the long run.
As a result, Lucy becomes the unwilling victim of much of the ship’s gossip and the ceaseless courtship of most of the single Italian men aboard the boat. Amidst all this unwanted attention, Lucy asks Salvatore to marry her once they reach New York. But it’s really only for the sake of appearances so that she will be able to pass the insanely strict inspections at Ellis Island.
While the storyline may not be anything new, The Golden Door provides an atypical view of the journey to America in the early 1900s. It showcases the unfair treatment and racism that the immigrants faced upon their arrival at Ellis Island in addition to all of the hopes and dreams that they had for the new “land of milk and honey” that America promised.
The film opens up in complete silence, a detail that instantly draws the audience into the storyline. The silence holds a certain modest strength that sets it apart from other films.
This minimalist approach is consistent throughout the entire film. For one, there are only three locations: Sicily, the ship and Ellis Island. Furthermore, the film shies away from any flashy scenery and dramatic dialogue, so the audience receives a straight-forward, undistracted tale. For that reason The Golden Door’s success is primarily reliant upon the expressions and emotions of the actors — a true tribute to the actors’ abilities, because the silence-filled pieces are just as telling as visually dynamic scenes.
The Golden Door is overall a very entertaining film, mostly because of its several uncharacteristically random — and perhaps spacey — scenes, which give better insight into Salvatore’s strange fantasies about America. In one such fantasy Salvatore envisions himself swimming in a lake of milk with Lucy, as a gigantic carrot floats on by. These scenes may interrupt the actual story line of the film, but they add something different that other period films have been too afraid to attempt in the past.
Adding a bit of experience and notoriety to the largely unknown cast and crew, Martin Scorsese, the Italian-American director, who can be accredited with some of the most thrilling and shocking movies of his time, including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed and most recently Shutter Island, headed the film’s marketing and promotions. Scorsese will even introduce the film this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, a festival that takes place in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York City to commemorate prominent films and filmmakers from around the world.
Whether due to Scorsese’s notoriety or not, The Golden Door was considered the seventh best film of 2007 by both The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. In addition, the film won six awards at the Venice Film Festival, two of which were awards for Best Film. And it’s no wonder why. The Golden Door is a film that is both historical and fanciful that is a delight for all.