America America (1963)

America America
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Elia Kazan
1963/USA
Athena Enterprises/Warner Bros.
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

Elia Kazan: [Voice-over] My name is Elia Kazan. I am a Greek by blood, a Turk by birth and an American because my uncle made a journey.

Could this be Elia Kazan’s masterpiece?

In voice-over at the beginning Kazan tells us that this is the story of his uncle’s journey to America.  Kazan came from a family of Anatolian Greeks.  They, as well as the large minority Armenian population, came under considerable oppression in their native Turkey.

It seems that young Stavros Topouzoglou has dreamed of going to America ever since he was aware there was such a place.  A violent crack-down on Armenians and the murder of his friend only strengthen his resolve.  The rest of his family don’t think much of the America plan.  When things get even worse, though, the father decides to entrust Stavros with everything of value the family possesses and to send him to Constantinople to work with his uncle in a rug business.  The idea is that Stavros will work hard and then gradually move the rest of the family to the capital.

Stavros is tricked and robbed of the family fortune on his way to the city.  He turns up at his uncle’s door with nothing and realizes that the rug business is not and never will be a going concern.  He begs the uncle not to reveal the loss and begins to work unceasingly, almost beyond human endurance, to earn his passage to America.  But nothing will come easily to Stavros.

As the story proceeds we learn that Stavros is willing to do almost anything to achieve his dream.  He hits rock bottom at about the time he finally gets on the ship to the Promised Land.

This film goes immediately on to my Best New-to-Me Movies of 2017 list.  I was skeptical when I learned it is almost three hours long but it kept my interest throughout.  The movie was shot on location in Greece and Turkey and looks stunning.  It is full of heart-felt performances.  Kazan sure doesn’t sugar-coat his family’s history.  This makes the story even more moving.  Highly recommended.

America America won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Director; and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.

Clip – opening

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