The Immigrant on Arte: why is Harvey Weinstein responsible for the failure of the film?

Did you know that “The Immigrant” had been a failure and that the responsibility fell to producer Harvey Weinstein?

The Immigrant, a film by James Gray released in 2013, transports us to the heart of the year 1921. We follow Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda. The latter leave their native Poland for the promised land, New York.

Arriving at Ellis Island, Magda, suffering from tuberculosis, is placed in quarantine. Ewa, alone and distraught, falls into the net of Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), an unscrupulous pimp.

To save her sister, she is ready for any sacrifice and gives herself up, resigned, to prostitution. The arrival of Orlando (Jeremy Renner), illusionist and cousin of Bruno, gives him confidence and hope for better days. But that’s without counting on Bruno’s jealousy.

While his filmography is still rooted in its time, The Immigrant is director James Gray’s first film to be set in a past that the director did not personally experience, more specifically in 1921.

Very attached to the subject of immigration in New York in each of his films, this is the first time that he has filmed Ellis Island, a place imbued with a very strong history, since the building housed the immigration service of New York until 1954.

This historical feature film, very well received by critics when it was released, was not however successful and did not receive any Oscar nominations.

The reason for this fiasco is very simple, her name is Harvey Weinstein. Olivier Dahan, Martin Scorsese, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Mark Christopher… Many of them have suffered the famous scissors from the American producer, who does not hesitate to cut scenes and amputate an entire film of its essence. he thinks it will be more profitable.

James Gray is one of those figures of directors deprived of the fruit of their labor. But before returning to The Immigrant, let’s go back a few years, to 2000, when The Yards, James Gray’s second feature film produced by… Weinstein, was released.

At this time, the director is not able to negotiate anything with the famous producer who has the last word on the film. And the latter will not hesitate to take advantage of it.

After asking him to shorten his script, Weinstein asks Gray to edit the ending of The Yards after a test screening. Still not convinced, the producer tries to cut again.

But, faced with a new test screening where the public continued to be circumspect, he agreed to return to a longer version and then left the film to rot in a corner for a year.

In the end, if Gilles Jacob had not invited Gray to present it at the Cannes Film Festival, The Yards would have been released in Direct-to-Video. Once on the Croisette, nothing will work out for Gray’s feature film.

During the screening, the director indeed faces his first “Cannes violence”. His film is praised by some and booed by others. Weinstein Scissorhands jumps at the chance and scuttles the film one last time, giving it a limited release and no publicity support.

A very sad story which could have deprived the public of the rest of the work of Gray who, after this painful experience, will take seven years to make his next film, The Night belongs to us.

James Gray: cinephilia, family tragedy and the importance of the actor… the obsessions of the heir to New Hollywood

We can then ask the legitimate question: why did the director agree to collaborate again with Weinstein on The Immigrant? Indeed, if the filmmaker had the final cut on his film, Weinstein nevertheless exerted strong pressure on him to make prevail his own version of the feature film, more commercial (with 30 minutes less and a happy ending …) .

Gray therefore found himself faced with a dilemma: either “destroy” The Immigrant by going the way of the producer, or leave it as is and condemn it to poor distribution.

The director chose the second option, thus pushing Weinstein to put the film aside, which explains the fact that it went unnoticed (six million dollars in revenue for a budget of 16 million and no Oscar…) despite its very good reception from the press.

During an interview conducted by the British daily The Telegraph on the occasion of the release of The Lost City of Z, the director returned at length to this disastrous experience, specifying from the outset that this new collaboration with Weinstein was far to be a choice or a way to appease their relationship:

“Let me be as direct as possible with you on this. There was no relationship to fix. I had no intention of Harvey buying and distributing The Immigrant. I thought it was an idea disastrous. And I didn’t think he would want the movie or like it.

But he bought the distribution rights without my knowing it! He bought it from the people who raise funds for me in the United States. I told them it was a bad idea but I didn’t get it.

It was neither my preference nor my choice. I didn’t want it to happen, I had no relationship with Harvey. So it’s not as if I had tried to appease our relationship and that he had still screwed me over afterwards. I’m not so stupid as to trust him twice!”

Universe Film

Still according to James Gray, Weinstein’s version lasted an hour and 28 minutes (instead of an hour and 53 minutes) and ended like The Sound of Music. The film was to end with a shot where Marion Cotillard and her sister walk through a mountain in Los Angeles with a voice-over saying: “I succeeded, I succeeded”, with grandiloquent music in the background.

The director finally stood up to Weinstein and kept his final cut. As noted above, the former Hollywood mogul, recently sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexual assault, willfully trashed the US release of Gray’s film in retaliation.

“When the film was released in the United States, Marion won almost every critical award. Harvey could easily have gotten her an Oscar nomination, even won her the statuette, if he had put his behind her”explains the director.

“We often act out of self-destruction. Harvey burying the film was a real act of self-destruction. Basically, he did it because I didn’t go his way. It violated his narcissistic principles.

When you don’t do exactly what he wants, it doesn’t matter if it’s in his interest to protect the film. He doesn’t see it that way.”

With a confidential release in 150 theaters in the USA, The Immigrant could only fail, managing to make less revenue than the intimate Two Lovers. In comparison, The Night Belongs to Us was released in 2,400 theaters in America.

Unfortunately, James Gray’s setbacks continued with Ad Astra. The director was forced to change the ending and return scenes for his SF feature under pressure from Fox and Disney studios. This greatly delayed the release of the film.

“I felt like I got as far as I could on film. But if it was a necessary compromise [NDR : le reshooting et la fin différente], I was ready to do it to allow my film to finally be released. I’m telling you that in all honesty.”confided Gray to Liberation in September 2019.


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