This week I had a chance to watch a film some critics call a masterpiece, while others were not as warm.

“The Immigrant” stars the fabulous Marion Cotillard as Ewa Cybulska, a young Polish woman who arrives in the New York City of 1921. Ewa brings with her her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan), ill with tuberculosis.

Director James Gray gives us city streets jammed with longing, frightened faces. The details are incredible. It’s as though Gray rented Francis Coppola’s old “Godfather” streets. But of course there is only the camera of the incredible Darius Khondji (“Amour”) to thank for that.

Ewa and Magda arrive and at once are pummeled with the cold stones of reality. They and their fellow passengers have just emerged from fetid steerage, are suddenly blinded by the light and the frightening magnificence of the city, and moments later, stunned by the ice cold disregard of the uniformed keepers of Ellis Island.

The heartbreak and cruelty start at once on Ellis Island, when Ewa’s sick sister Magda is heard coughing and is torn from Ewa’s arms and taken away to the infirmary.

Ewa is charged with “low morals” for an alleged event on the boat and is set to be deported. Her uncle and aunt, who were supposed to meet her, have not appeared, and their address appears to be in error.

Then the real darkness arrives. A courtly man of manners, frocked in business clothes, blessed with a pleasant smile and a modulated voice, tips his homburg and introduces himself as a representative of the Traveler’s Aid Society. He offers to guide Ewa to a better place.

This is, of course, Bruno Weiss, played by Joaquin Phoenix, with a smile that floats across his face as though coated with oil.

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me on my first outing with the film that had Ewa grown up, as we did, with Disney’s “Pinocchio,” she would have recognized “Honest John,” the sly fox who needed “naughty boys” for his “Pleasure Island.”

Bruno’s Pleasure Island is his burlesque musical theater, where he stages amateur musicals rife with nude girls he has plucked one at a time to dance and lure customers to his “Pleasure Island,” a multi-floored tenement brothel. Our unsuspecting and desperate Ewa has stepped onto Bruno’s slippery slope.

The darkness of “The Immigrant” that arrives with Bruno soon takes on a foul smell of duplicity, greed, garbage-strewn hallways and the fallen angels of a shattered Europe. Welcome to America.

When his burlesque dreams fall apart and he is ejected, Bruno takes his flock to the streets, to alleys and garages.

After a few failed attempts, Ewa, desperate for money to rescue her sister, succumbs, and starts her dance to the bottom.

Eventually we meet Emil (Jeremy Renner), Bruno’s cousin and amateur roadshow magician, who is immediately besotted by Ewa. No wonder. Director Gray, in a masterful move, carefully surrounds Cotillard with a bevy of corpulent cuties right out of Federico Fellini’s scrapbook.

Betrayal will coat each following scene. The ending is somewhat softer than we expect, but one just as dark and bitter. We find ourselves left with some sour, hard pebbles in our popcorn.

Still, Gray’s film is beautiful to see. The sets, costumes and lighting are incredible, and those things haven’t changed. I’m not sure what has. Probably me.

J.P. Devine, a Waterville writer, is a former film and stage actor.

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