Immigrant is reportedly based on writer-director Barry Shurchin’s own family history, but the story he’s chosen to tell is so melodramatic and relentlessly grim that any passion he feels for the material isn’t reflected onscreen. It’s 1979 and 10-year-old Daanyik (Sam Dixon) and his parents (Harry Hamlin and Angela Gots) have just emigrated from Russia to New York. A former engineer, Daanyik’s father is humiliated by having to work as a laborer, and quickly spirals into self-pity and alcoholism. At yeshiva school, Daanyik runs afoul of a bullying rabbi (Michael Lerner) obsessed with using dodgeball as a man-making teaching tool. Later, the boy battles for inner-city playground turf against a group of American kids who make fun of his broken English. The yeshiva and playground scenes go on for a really long time, and the home-life story eventually takes on the elements of a violent thriller. Throughout, Shurchin intercuts black-and-white stock footage of post–World War II New York City, as if trying to convince himself, and us, that he’s making a dramatic exposé of the immigrant experience — a contemporary Hester Street, perhaps — but the effort, like most everything in this overly earnest endeavor, is not convincing.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 30, 2013