×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Why Is ‘Immigrant’ Director James Gray a Bigger Hit in France Than at Home in U.S.?

Perhaps it’s appropriate that the director of “The Immigrant” has achieved more fame overseas than on his own shores.

In France, James Gray is practically a household name. Though he hails from New York — Queens to be exact — four of his five films have premiered at the Cannes Festival, and he has been nominated twice for the foreign film prize at France’s Cesar Awards. Even casual French film buffs know his resume. So why is Gray a virtual unknown to most Americans?

The director himself is a bit perplexed by his outsized international reputation, which began when his debut feature, the Brighton Beach-set crime thriller “Little Odessa,” was invited to premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 1994, when Gray was 25. Six years after that came “The Yards,” about a man caught in the middle of a turf war in a Queens railroad yard, followed by crime drama “We Own the Night” and stormy romance “Two Lovers,” a Dostoevskian meller which has started to transform his perception among U.S. auds.

“At the risk of sounding self-serving, if you had to choose a group of people you would hope would respond to your films, you’d choose the French. Throughout history, they have always been ahead of the curve in praising American directors,” says Gray, who accepts the fact that appreciation for his films in the States seems to come after their theatrical runs. But that also brings a certain disappointment for the director, a classic-film aficionado who considers “The Immigrant” his most personal project yet. The 1920s-set historical drama, which stars Marion Cotillard as a Polish woman who goes astray after passing through Ellis Island, was inspired by stories his family members shared about their early days in the U.S.

Just as Martin Scorsese has Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tim Burton has Johnny Depp, Gray has collaborated with Joaquin Phoenix on every film since “The Yards.” In “The Immigrant,” Gray based the tragic figure Phoenix portrays on Max Hoch-stim, a real-life pimp who used to frequent his great-grandfather’s Lower East Side restaurant, Hurwitz’s, often accompanied by an entourage of women.

Though the film was completed in time for 2012’s Toronto fest, U.S. distrib the Weinstein Co. insisted on holding it until Cannes, with Harvey Weinstein hoping he might convince the director to change the ending. Now, nearly an entire year later — after the film has already been released on DVD in France — Weinstein will open “The Immigrant” on four screens May 16.

That’s a tall order for a movie that makes minimal concessions to passing Hollywood fads. Whereas Gray’s past films have often been compared with classic ’70s cinema, “The Immigrant” takes an even more old-fashioned approach, embracing an almost operatic form of storytelling — a throwback that isn’t exactly all the rage with younger, superhero-obsessed, opening-weekend crowds.

“To me, to do something winking, post-modern and glib is not really radical in the context of cinema, because cinema has always been a popular-culture medium,” Gray says, instead casting his lot with a silent film director known for the melodramatic. “I tried to make something that had no wall between us and the characters, that was so filled with sympathy and empathy for the characters, to out-Frank-Borzage Frank Borzage.”

Making an elaborate New York period piece on a budget of less than $13 million took considerable ambition, but it’s nothing compared with Gray’s next project, an adaptation of David Grann’s “The Lost City of Z,” about an Amazon explorer who disappeared while searching for a missing civilization — the sort of loony, “Fitzcarraldo”-like project that could make Gray famous outside of France … or infamous.

“I wrote Francis Ford Coppola and told him we were shooting in the jungle, asking for advice, and he wrote back two words: ‘Don’t go.’ ”

More Film

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers, Concord Boards Project

    Concord, successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has revealed sales to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of Holiday are in black [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

  • Ghost Fleet review

    Film Review: 'Ghost Fleet'

    The revelatory documentary “Ghost Fleet” condemns the modern-day slave labor fueling the Thai fishing industry while focusing on the work of Bangkok-based advocacy organization Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), a group dedicated to ending slavery at sea. Combining chilling testimony from formerly enslaved men, some wincingly arty recreations of their ordeals, and on-the-ground footage [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew [...]

  • Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'The

    Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'The Wandering Earth'

    Netflix has bought rights to “The Wandering Earth,“ the smash hit film pitched as China’s first mainstream sci-fi movie. The movie was the sleeper hit of Chinese New Year. It opened in fourth position on Feb. 5 but climbed to the top spot and has not yet relinquished it. After 14 days in theaters, the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT Gerard McMurray, director of “The First Purge,” will write and direct Michael B. Jordan’s thriller “The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content