In America, America, director Elia Kazan tells the personal story handed down by the elders of his family about his uncle’s dream and journey to America. At the end of the nineteenth century, Stavros Topouzoglou (Stathis Giallelis) is a young Greek man in a small village in rural Turkey. Here, the Turks are the upper-class and oppress the Greek and Armenian people. Tired of being constantly pushed and humiliated, Stavros begins to rebel as Turks become more aggressive. Afraid of his family being put in more danger, Stavros’s father sends him to a cousin in Constantinople to work and start a better life for the family. The plan is that one by one, Stavros will send money for a family member to make the journey. But Stavros has big plans of his own that he is sure will make his family proud. He is determined to find a way to America.
At first, this big dream of America is just that; a fantasy of a poor boy. Soon, we realize how brutally serious Stavros is about this, he begins to break his back working for pennies, desperately saving up for the money to make the voyage. He’s very idealistic, but he soon learns some dark truths about what people will do for money.
Eventually, he turns to his cousin’s original plan for him to be come a gigolo. Stavros is a handsome enough young man, if he can win the affections of some rich man’s ugly daughter, he will have plenty of money. However, with this plan comes some heavy moral conflict, especially when the girl’s family is so kind and welcoming.
Filmed in a beautiful, crisp black and white, America, America can feel like a family photo album at times. The collection of images feels so authentic and lovingly detailed, like suddenly finding yourself in your grandparent’s home decades ago. They are not always pretty but they’re honest, like when Stavros is living in the streets of Constantinople and working himself to near death. It’s like seeing tragic stories you may have heard from previous generations about times of war or economic depression.
Kazan has called America, America his favorite of the films he has directed, and I agree with him. With the compelling story of a youth’s dream that will one day affect the next generations of his family, we feel a deeper connection and support Stavros more. So many families have stories of the generation who bravely immigrated to America, but sadly, most have become forgotten. The fact that Kazan’s family passed down this story is amazing enough, but for him to preserve and share it through this beautiful film is a whole other feat.
“Come on you. Let’s go you. People waiting.”