A definite highlight of tonight’s Weinstein 2013 slate preview at Cannes, which we ran through in large part here, was a film that has been one of our most anticipated of this whole festival — James Gray’s “The Immigrant.” With Gray uncharacteristically confident about the film in its unfinished form every time we’ve spoken to him, calling it “the best thing I’ve ever done,” our expectations are high. However one tiny niggling concern this writer has experienced has been about the lack of promotional material around Jeremy Renner, who plays the pivotal role of the magician who, as far as the synopsis tells us, seeks to rescue Cotillard’s Ewa from the clutches of the wicked Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix). Frankly, we’d bet the farm on Cotillard and Phoenix delivering phenomenal performances — indeed Phoenix already has, three times over, for Gray. Renner however is somewhat more the unknown quantity (he actually features in the brief clip premiered this morning, so Jess can put her fears to rest – ed.), so we were happy to hear Weinstein cue up the showreel by telling us it would be a scene with Cotillard and Renner we’d see.
But he misspoke, or we misheard, because the scene that actually unfolded (a full scene, rather than a chopped-up trailer, quite the treat), was in fact between Phoenix and Cotillard, and if we were disappointed not to catch anything of Renner, that quickly evaporated. The scene is tantalizingly good, teasing a little more of Ewa’s background (her parents, she claims, trembling in a corner by a fireplace, were killed by soldiers, they had their heads cut off and she was forced to watch). But when Bruno, in whom she has been confiding moves in to kiss her and she recoils “Don’t touch me,” his mask slips and a sudden rage (Phoenix is a whiz at sudden rage) descends as he bellows “Shame on you! I don’t need to force myself on you… I should beat you to death.” He then confronts her about stealing something from his wife(?) whom he forces to come in to bear witness to the scene. Ewa is crying and apologizing and returns the stolen item, only to be given a dutiful peck on the cheek by the subservient wife. “You see?”rails Bruno, “that’s what we do, we forgive each other. You’re desperate, we’ve all been desperate…my only concern is for you.” The scene is played in such a way that Bruno’s “concern” is as frightening as anyone else’s malice.
The scene is mostly Phoenix’s, then, with Cotillard expressive but mute for the large part, but the richness of the characterization and the period detail as far as we could see in this small interior, all look immaculate. So either Renner is being held back because his part isn’t that large after all, or perhaps he’s the ace up Gray’s sleeve performance-wise? It seems inconceivable given what we saw today, but our appetites are whetted enough to believe anything’s possible. At the very, very least, it looks likely to be a great showcase for Cotillard and especially Phoenix, and even if that’s all we get, we’d be happy.