A member of a Soviet entertainment troupe visiting the U.S. defects. [Dir: Paul Mazursky/ Robin Williams, Maria Conchita Alonso, Cleavant Derricks/ 115 min/ Comedy, Drama/ Escape from Socialism, Pro-Immigration]
This film does an excellent job of contrasting Soviet and American life, and in so doing builds an appreciation for the freedom we still have left. But the film’s real triumph is in portraying immigrants in a sympathetic and even patriotic light, as likable, hard-working people with a strong appreciation for liberty.
The main character here is a Russian musician living in Moscow. He has a difficult existence. In particular, he’s constantly under the eye of the KGB; he isn’t free even to play the kind of music he likes; and he lives in impoverished, crowded conditions. Despite those deprivations, he has no conscious plan to defect during his circus troupe’s upcoming trip to New York City. But on the last day of his visit, while in that bastion of capitalism, Bloomingdale’s, he suddenly decides to make the leap. Instantly KGB agents swing into action to stop him, but they’re no match for the Bloomingdale’s staff, who help the defector gain his freedom.
The rest of the film is about his adjustment to American culture. The new immigrant’s friends include a black security guard from Alabama, an Italian salesperson, and a Cuban immigration lawyer. There is an implied element of social tolerance in this portrait of so many different types of people all getting along, working together, and helping each other when help is needed.
Of course, life in the U.S. isn’t perfect. The defector works mostly low-level jobs as he makes his way up, and at one point he’s a victim of violent crime. But the U.S. has that one essential ingredient of happiness so lacking around the world—freedom; and nobody knows it better than immigrants. That message is underscored in the touching final scene, in which, on the Fourth of July, a group of immigrants recite together the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. They know the words, long forgotten by so many of the rest of us.
Alternately funny, touching, and bittersweet, this film succeeds as both comedy and drama, thanks to a very good script and Robin Williams, the man with a million faces and accents, in the leading role. Many lesser characters are also well played. It’s an entertaining escape-from-socialism story with a sympathetic focus on the lives of recent immigrants.