America, America (Elia Kazan, 1963)

28Oct11

Stathis Giallelis (Stavros Topouzoglou). Screenplay by Elia Kazan. Directed by Elia Kazan. Running time: 174 minutes.

Kazan’s most personal and also his longest film, America, America is as epic as you’d expect. It comes with one of those all too human ‘Kazanian’ characters leading the way for us through this mad Eastern European landscape, as he acts out his Utopian voyage that is supposed to take him from Turkey to New York. The goal, of course, is liberty and prosperity. Liberty from the religious persecution plaguing his home town and dragging down his family, and prosperity as contrasted with the fruitless labour on offer in his home country. In a strange way it reminded me of The Grapes of Wrath. It’s certainly about an individual rather than a family, but both share the idea of setting off and fighting at all costs for the sake of a better life, and in our protagonist’s case here in particular he may start off soft and noble, but by the end he’s happy to employ the most Machiavellian of means if necessary. The story mirrors Kazan’s only family history, the legendary director describing at the beginning by narration how he has come to be an American citizen despite his Greek and Turkish heritage. It is ultimately, then, a film in awe at the struggle that made his life in the United States possible, and it’s a three hour thank you and story of a boy determined to actualise his dream. We’re more than happy to join him on a predictably magical and moving ride.

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