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Whether or not Ewa truly has no other option is one of the film's provocative and open questions. Played with great passion and complexity by Marion Cotillard, Ewa is a sympathetic protagonist who appears almost saintly in her innocence. She's a woman of deep faith, praying frequently, gazing longingly at the cross, attending local mass, and even confessing to a priest as she wrestles with the tension between what she must do to survive and the profound guilt she accrues doing it.

In the confessional she wonders whether she's bound for hell. The priest tells her, "you must have faith in your own salvation," but also tells her she must leave behind a lifestyle of sin.

A "way out" is presented in the form of a compassionate magician named Emil (Jeremy Renner), Bruno's cousin, rival and seeming opposite on the villain-hero spectrum. When Ewa first meets Emil he is onstage performing as "Orlando the Magician," stunning the crowd through Houdini-esque illusions: disappearing from a bullet-strewn coffin (empty tomb!) and levitating in a cruciform pose (the resurrection!).

If Emil's savior overtones aren't clear enough, he tells the crowd: "Don't give up faith and don't lose hope." He catches Ewa's eye and hands her a white rose, symbol of new beginnings. But is Emil really the salvation Ewa needs?

As the film progresses it becomes clear that the "two divergent paths" presented as futures for Ewa (one with Bruno in his sordid but lucrative business; the other with Emil, starting a new life in, of course, California) are artificially simplistic. Where is Ewa's agency in all of this? Doesn't she have the option of ditching both of these men and finding a way on her own? The film is careful to not anachronistically impose contemporary gender politics into the world of the film, but Ewa's arc can nevertheless be read through a feminist lens.

Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard in 'The Immigrant'Image: Anne Joyce / Wild Bunch

Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard in 'The Immigrant'

When Bruno gets arrested and briefly jailed midway through the film, one of his other prostitutes laments to Ewa that "we are nothing without him." Ewa emphatically replies, "I am not nothing." Even the most depraved and lowly creatures have dignity, Ewa's faith leads her to believe, and she sees this in people even when they themselves do not. When Bruno is at his lowest moment and says "I'm nothing," Ewa repeats her earlier comment, but this time to him: "You are not nothing."

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