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    Moscow's Merits

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Last week’s announcement of the RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for Stronger Employment) Act, a Senate bill that proposed a “merit-based” overhaul of the U.S.’s legal immigration system to earmark English-language familiarity, educational and job-skills proficiency, and financial earnings responsibility as components of a “points-based” merit system to attain green card status, drew sharp and quick responses from those on both the “inclusion” and “protectionist” sides of the issue. Let’s consider how impulsive defector Vladimir Ivanov, a soulful, American-culture-obsessed saxophonist (played by the wonderful Robin Williams) with a visiting Soviet circus troupe in Manhattan in director/co-writer Paul Mazursky’s poignant and funny serio-comedy Moscow on the Hudson (1984), might score on the point scale. At the time he decides – in a sequence both hilarious and heartbreaking moment set in that capitalist consumerist mecca Bloomingdale’s – to declare himself a political refugee seeking asylum, he speaks little English, has no family ties to America, and his musician skills seem no worthier than those of countless other home-grown Americans or wannabe Americans struggling to make a living at their art. Indeed, as Mazursky and co-screenwriter Leon Capetanos depict in the film’s early scenes before Vladimir and his colleagues embark on their fateful trip, the sacrifice of connections to his blood family in Mother Russia is colossal, and his discovery of a new “family,” made up of an Italian store clerk (Maria Conchita Alonso), an Alabama-born security guard (Cleavant Derricks) and a Cuban émigré immigration lawyer (Alejandro Rey), help but cannot always compensate to bridge the emotional gap that opens up when home is left behind. What defies the notion of points on a metric scale of worthiness is Vladimir’s fervent and ferocious – even as it’s also soul-wearying – determination to construct a better life and to succeed and contribute to the American melting pot. (It is yet unclear if evaluative points in the new proposal are awarded in this area.) Thirty-four years after it arrived in theaters, the film’s philosophical impact remains undiminished, even as its finely-drawn characters and their recognizable struggles to realize their dreams still leave their mark every time one revisits this unique story. In 1984, the idea of your everyday fellow citizens originating somewhere else seemed a tad more remarkable that today, as Eleanor Blau chronicled in The New York Times as a follow-up to the film’s opening here: In 2017, the picture has enlarged, as Cinapse blogger Frank Calvillo noted earlier this year here: As the RAISE Act undergoes further debate/analysis/refinement, revisiting Twilight Time’s marvelous hi-def Blu-ray of Moscow on the Hudson, featuring two Audio Commentaries, one with Mazursky and another with resident TT pundits Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, may add some interesting heart and humanity to the discussion.