James Gray Credit: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

The 49th Chicago International Film Festival

Director spotlights

Italian horror master Dario Argento presents Dracula 3D in person.

Chicago native John McNaughton‘s The Harvest is the director’s first theatrical feature in over a decade.

Tsai Ming-liang‘s Stray Dogs follows in the tradition of Chaplin and Ozu.

Reporting on the Cannes premiere of James Gray’s The Immigrant, Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York wrote, “Gray prefers a straight A to B narrative classicism that seems out of vogue, at least as far as the current American cinema is concerned, in its slow-build patience and delicacy.” Gray, a writer-director based in the New York, would probably agree with that assessment. In his interviews and DVD commentaries, Gray cites Greek tragedy, French realist painting, Dostoevsky novels, and verismo Italian operas of the late 19th century as perennial sources of inspiration. His first four films may take place in the present or near present, but they rarely feel like contemporary films, suggesting instead what 19th- or early-20th-century artists might make of life today.

The Immigrant is the first movie Gray has directed that explicitly invokes a long-gone era. Set in 1920s New York, it stars Marion Cotillard as the title character, a Polish woman who, separated from her sister at Ellis Island, gets swept up first by a shady burlesque promoter (Joaquin Phoenix, in his fourth collaboration with Gray) and then by his cousin, a stage magician played by Jeremy Renner. All of Gray’s previous films have been concerned with the immigrant experience in some fashion, taking place among ethnic enclaves that preserve European cultural traditions. (Not surprisingly, Francis Ford Coppola has voiced admiration for Gray’s work.) The Immigrant suggests a deeper exploration of this theme, getting closer to the roots that lie beneath his other movies. It screens Thursday, October 10, as part of the festival’s opening-night program, with Gray and Phoenix in person; tickets are $30, $150 with an afterparty.