5 Films on Immigrants

The “5 Films” series will be a new Cinemayward list of recommendations, similar to this earlier list of football films. These lists aren’t exhaustive, nor are they “the best” of this particular genre. These are simply five recommended films connected by a common idea or theme, usually sparked by something of relevance in our present-day culture. This first “5 Films” list highlights the experiences of immigrants (listed in alphabetical order by title):


Babette’s Feast (1987, Gabriel Axel). A beautiful parable of grace, the film focuses on the experiences on two sisters locked in the grip of legalism and fundamentalism whose lives are transformed when they take in a refugee from France, Babette, whose unique display of generosity with her cooking changes the entire ethos of the village for the better. This is a masterpiece of religious/spiritual cinema, and one worth seeking out and viewing immediately.

God Grew Tired of Us (2006, Christopher Quinn). A documentary focusing on the lives of the Lost Boys of Sudan, orphaned refugees who survived terrible ordeals, and their subsequent journey to America. Their resilience in the midst of such suffering is incredible to behold, and the film gives the audience a peek into the everyday experience of someone who moves from a refugee camp into the urban centers of America, including the challenges within both environments. Now streaming on Netflix in the USMy review.

The Immigrant (2013, James Gray). A quiet, melodramatic morality tale with phenomenal performances and direction, James Gray’s beautiful film offers a picture of forgiveness and grace in the midst of the difficult experience of two sisters immigrating to New York in the 1920s. The 2015 film Brooklyn is the more hopeful sisterly NY immigration story, but The Immigrant might be the more powerful, affecting, and haunting. My review.

La Promesse (1996, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne). The Dardennes’ first major film to receive international recognition is about a teenager, his father, and their relationship with the illegal immigrants they exploit for cheap labor and financial gain. When one of the immigrant workers is killed, the teen’s loyalties and sense of justice are stirred up, forcing him to make some difficult decisions and revelations. The Dardennes are my favorite non-American filmmakers working today, and La Promesse is an excellent starting point for accessing their filmography.

The Visitor (2008, Tom McCarthy). While Spotlight won Best Picture, The Visitor is my favorite of Tom McCarthy’s films. This subtle and moving drama about a lonely man (Richard Jenkins, in my favorite performance of his) befriending a couple he finds living in his apartment shows how an ordinary encounter with a human being can elicit such a dramatic change in heart and disposition. When we know the experience of immigrants–when we know their names and faces–we will be moved to compassionate action and justice.

What other great film are there about immigration? Share your recommendations in the comments.

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One Response to 5 Films on Immigrants

  1. Patrick March 5, 2017 at 2:23 pm #

    In America!!! One of my top 10 favs.

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