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by Nigel M Smith
May 29, 2013 10:23 AM
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'The Immigrant' Director James Gray Tells His Cannes Critics To 'Go F*** Themselves' and Explains His Deeply Personal Connection to the Film

You were talking about the genesis of the project, the personal connection, the family connection.

My grandparents, they spoke no English really, even to the day that they died, and there was this kind of weird, emotionally repressed environment which was so… [pauses] fraught. I would go to my grandparents’ house, they would be listening to like [imitates the music] the Victrola, my grandmother would be buying potatoes in fifty pound sacks and I remember [my grandfather] kept a crappy and barely function Ford truck in his garage, and when my father asked him, "Dad, why are you still keeping that truck here? It doesn’t really work." He said, "Because you never know when they’ll come for you." And I saw the evidence of a certain kind of fear, xenophobia, melancholy, that has been bequeathed to my father, which ultimately of course means it’s inside of me. And so I suppose it was my way of examining some of the wrenching dislocation of coming to a new place. And you know, it’s interesting because my grandfather, as little English as he spoke, he always spoke of Russia, or I should say The Ukraine, really, with great reverence and love, and that’s insane, because my grandmother’s parents were murdered in front of her face.

READ MORE: 'The Immigrant' Director James Gray Says He Is 'Unabashedly Pro Immigration' at Cannes

Just like her character in the film.

Yes, by the way, my grandparents are the photograph in the locket, along with Ewa’s sister. And I just couldn't understand what they missed about it, you know, the town was almost leveled by the czarist troops, and then it was totally destroyed by the Nazis, and yet people have a connection to their home that they can’t lose, so I want to explore that thing, the dislocation. And I’m not saying the American dream isn’t true, because in some ways it is. I’m here, in Cannes, having made a film when my grandfather was a plumber in Brooklyn in the 1930s after coming here through Ellis Island, so obviously there’s some measure of social mobility that does matter. But by the same token, it’s an ongoing process, it’s not like you snap your fingers and all of a sudden you’re a hit and nothing else matters, the way it works is that things change and your life evolves, and I suppose I wanted to examine the process, in a way, of the American dream. Does that make sense?

Yeah, that makes great sense. I had no idea about the personal connection; that wasn’t brought up yesterday in the press conference.

Nobody asked.

Yeah, nobody asked. With that said, are your parents still with us?

My father is, my mother died twenty years ago, my father is still around and quite compos mentis and lives on 74th street and 2nd avenue.

Did he see the film?

He has not. I’m gonna to show it to him as soon as I can. I finished it not long before we came here. I fished shooting it a while ago but it had 140 visual effects shots, some of which were extremely complex…

All of which are not noticeable.

That’s the reason that it took so long, 'cause you had to keep doing multiple versions. And I wanted to make sure that you couldn’t see the visual effects. Suspension of disbelief is critical. When did you see the film?

I just saw it yesterday morning, at 8:30.

Oh God, that’s too early. What was it like? Was it a good response, do you think?

Yeah, let’s talk about the response briefly.

I don’t know what the response was.

I mean the response that you witnessed, last night.

Last night? Well it was great.

The film, from what I’ve noticed, has divided people in a surprising way. I responded to it so emotionally. Other people didn’t respond to it that way and saw the pacing as a little deliberate, from what I've gauged. Can you speak a bit to that and the tendency in films these days to move at a certain clip?

Well my movie is an hour and forty-eight minutes and lets scenes play, and I don't say this generally because I know it's not politically incorrect, but if the problem people have with the film is the pace, fuck ‘em, because we’re in Cannes, and this is not the place to be watching "Transformers 3," and they can go fuck themselves. It’s not that much work, and they should be ashamed of themselves. I didn’t know that.

I have no problem with hearing criticism, I have no problem with hearing people have a problem with the film, one way or another, but if the problem is like, "Oh, it was slow," they can go fuck themselves. Because movies are not barium enemas, you’re not supposed to get them over with as quickly as possible. This is a place where films are supposed to be a certain thing where they take their time and you should think about them. It’s supposed to be a place where cinema is something for thought, not fast food. If that’s what they want they should stay home. Plenty of movies for them in the multiplex, is what I would say.

When I was discussing this with someone who loved the film as much as I did, they said, “Well if it wasn’t in English, maybe the pacing wouldn't even be brought up."

Yeah, well of course that’s true. What happens is different cultures demand different things of you. I’m embarrassed for those people; I think that’s an embarrassing response. They should turn on a neon sign on that says "I’m a moron."

I’m sure they’ll say I’m arrogant for that, but I’m not, because the truth is that I was on the jury in 2009 and you come for this kind of experience, and if you’re looking for action sequences, like I said, there is tons for you. The world is filled with that stuff. Ugh, it gets me enraged. Almost nothing will. I can take any criticism: "I didn’t understand that character," "This was too sad," whatever, whatever. That drives me nuts. It drives me nuts. Whatever.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you --

No, you didn’t, I like to get into it. It makes me passionate.

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  • Michelle | August 23, 2013 6:44 PMReply

    This man has no talent and a big ego. His movies are rubbish. If only they were just slow... No, they are incredibly dull, emotionless, pointless, fake and almost the same. I have nothing against slow movies if they have cinematic values like atmosphere, style, good screenplay etc. Movies of James Grey are barren, I don't feel that he put his soul and wants the audience to relate to them. Sorry, but cinema is not for him. There're a lot of other opportunities for men of his age.

  • Joe Leydon | May 31, 2013 2:39 PMReply

    I love -- love! -- this line: "Because movies are not barium enemas, you’re not supposed to get them over with as quickly as possible." Seriously: Will be quoting that.

  • Silvana | May 30, 2013 4:49 PMReply

    The Immigrant is the best film of James Gray and I really wait for Oscar nom to him, and Cotillard must win best Actress category, she is magnificent.

  • Paul D. Brazill | May 30, 2013 4:52 AMReply

    'Also the worst concierge service in all of human history. ' That man knows suffering. And that egg white omelet! Poor man. No wonder he identifies with Cotillard's character so well.

    This looks to be another one of those dreary middlebrow films that are both portentous and lightweight. An achievement of sorts.

  • Tania | May 29, 2013 10:25 PMReply

    I hope Cotillard be nominated to Oscar 'cause she worths it!

  • Gross | May 29, 2013 8:43 PMReply

    What a jerk. I've not seen one of his movies, nor do I want to. He probably would think of me one of the unwashed masses for saying that.

  • Jenna | May 29, 2013 9:54 PM

    That's just stupid because he is genius! He is a little arrogant so what? He is not a bad person & that's not a reason to snub his movies (which are all masterpieces).

  • LeonRaymond | May 29, 2013 8:26 PMReply

    Hey, hey come on all he had to do was put a cape and tights on some of the characters and have women fainting and then rescued and all those critics would have got it and got the type of film they only want to see!

  • Liam | May 29, 2013 3:24 PMReply

    Well said Gray! It's your movie, a piece of you. Some critics were really harsh with you, they don't get you! I think that you have every right to defend your work !

  • Wer | May 29, 2013 3:20 PMReply

    Who said anything about The Immigrant being too "slow"? I think that's a distortion of the record. Most negative commentary I've seen (and my own thoughts) highlights a fundamental uninterestingness about the narrative, only slack dramatic impulses on display.

  • Shelly Isaacs | May 29, 2013 3:10 PMReply

    I applaud and support James Gray on his comments about people's problem with "the slowness of film." As a programmer and lecturer of foreign language film programs, I also have to deal with this kind of comment. Either people get it or they don't, and all Mr Gray and the rest of us can do is be thankful for the ones who do.

  • charles | May 29, 2013 2:19 PMReply

    The Marion Cotillard's performance in The Immigrant is superb!

  • Milla | May 29, 2013 1:09 PMReply

    I got to say I like his honesty, he might look arrogant but what he says is clearly true, the way some "critics" review some movies is abject, sometimes they know nothing about what they are talking about. Claiming that a movie is "too slow" or "too linear" is just stupid, critics should try harder to understand what the director was trying to do and maybe they would see the movie from another angle.
    Some critics let their own feeling get in the way of what is supposed to be their job.

  • Allan | May 29, 2013 11:44 AMReply

    His treatment of fans and the wait staff...

  • Joe | May 29, 2013 10:51 AMReply

    I feel so sorry for him having to deal with such awful service at one of the finest hotels in the world! Laundry took SO long! I love that when they had nothing on the menu of this classy French place, Mr Gray ordered off the menu. The French know nothing of food, so sometimes you have to be patient with them. Maybe if he had told them he was friends with JJ Abrhams, he could have got the egg whites he wanted without all the attitude.

  • Tom | May 29, 2013 9:49 PM

    Someone should take away your fucking communication devices, you foolish ignorant! James Gray is one of the finest american director alive, along with Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, The Coen's brothers & Francis Ford Coppola.

  • parsyeb | May 29, 2013 2:28 PM

    Hey Joe, give him a break. He's an emotional temperature-setter. He gets that camera close to the actor and tells Phoenix to curl his lip. I mean, Two Lovers? What mise-en-scene, what acting, how do you get that character where he's kinda crazy but kinda loveable but kinda nuts but he's a cinephile?

    Seriously, somebody needs to take away this guy's camera.