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Green Card (1990) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique

brontë georges immigration marriage

Principal social themes: immigration, environmental issues

Touchstone. PG-13 rating. Featuring: Gerard Depardieu, Andie MacDowell, Bebe Neuwirth, Gregg Edelman, Robert Prosky, Ann Wedgeworth, Ethan Philips, Jessie Keosian, Mary Louise Wilson, Ronald Guttman, Lois Smith, Simon Jones. Written by Peter Weir. Cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson. Edited by William Anderson. Music by Hans Zimmer. Produced and directed by Peter Weir. Color. 108 minutes.

Overview

Green Card is a romantic comedy based on the rules and regulations of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service). An American woman agrees to a marriage of convenience to a French visitor so he can obtain a green card enabling him to remain in the United States. Government agents, conducting a spot check, suspect their marriage is spurious, forcing them to live together to prepare for a formal investigation. Unable to tolerate each other at first, the couple eventually fall in love. The film marked the American film debut of French megastar Gerard Depardieu.

Synopsis

Brontë Mitchell (Andie MacDowell) is a horticulturalist, a passionate member of the Green Guerrillas, a group of environmentalists dedicated to creating gardens and parks in vacant lots of the inner city. When she hears about the availability of an apartment with a greenhouse, she is determined to secure it. She learns, however, that the apartment board of trustees wants to rent the place to a married couple. Antoine, a mutual friend, persuades her to marry a French immigrant named Georges Fauré, who is described to her as being a composer. It is to be just a technical wedding so that he may legally obtain residency status in America. Later, they can secure a divorce. She meets Georges at Afrika, a cafe in downtown Manhattan, and they chat for a few moments before going through a quick ceremony at the nearby courthouse. Later, Brontë is able to convince the board to rent her the apartment, and she is ecstatic. When her neighbors and the doorman inquire about her husband, she tells them he is away in Africa doing musical research. One evening, she and her friends visit a fancy French restaurant, and she is surprised to see that Georges is a waiter, After several weeks, Brontë is contacted by the Immigration Service saying they want to visit her to conduct a routine interview. They are cracking down on cases of counterfeit marriages undertaken merely to get around the immigration laws. She tracks down Georges to inform him. He arrives at her apartment late, just a few minutes before the authorities, so they do not have time to concoct a convincing story. The two agents seem satisfied with the brief interview. However, when Brontë answers the telephone, one agent asks to use the bathroom, and Georges directs him to a closet instead. Their suspicions aroused, the agents summon them for a full and formal interview in two weeks at the immigration office. Brontë speaks with her lawyer, who informs her that she could be charged with a crime if the authorities learn of the circumstances of the marriage. She invites Georges to move in so they can become familiar with each other, learn about their past, and fabricate a plausible story about their relationship. They reveal details of their lives, such as the fact that Brontë‘s father named each of his children after famous writers, so her siblings are Colette, Austen, Elliott, and Lawrence. During this time, they discover that they can barely tolerate each other. For example, Georges smokes, loves to cook fatty foods, and is somewhat of a slob. Brontë is an uptight housekeeper devoted more to her plants than anything else. Lauren, Brontë’s closest friend, learns about Georges, making it awkward to keep his existence secret so Phil, her regular boyfriend, another Green Guerrilla, does not find out about him.

Lauren’s parents are planning to leave New York and are considering giving their large collection of trees and plants to the Green Guerrillas. Brontë is invited to their dinner party to discuss the issue. Lauren intervenes, bringing Georges along to the gathering. When the guests learn that he is a composer, they ask him to play. At first, he bangs and hammers at the piano, and Brontë assumes the story that he is a composer is a mere fabrication. Then, however, he plays an impressionistic piece set to a poem about children and trees, which greatly impresses Lauren’s folks, who agree to donate the trees. Brontë is touched by Georges’ considerate gesture. On another occasion, Brontë‘s parents make an unexpected appearance, and Georges poses as her handyman. However, when Phil returns from his trip and takes Brontë out, Georges spoils their outing when they return to the apartment, by revealing himself as being her husband. After that, Brontë tosses him out, but they reconcile and complete their preparations for the interviews. They are questioned separately, and Brontë is completely convincing. Georges, however, falters when asked about Brontë’s cold cream. He confesses that the marriage was a ruse simply for him to get a green card. He agrees to his deportation, as long as Brontë is not charged with a crime. Leaving the office, Georges pretends that the officers were satisfied, and they part. A few days later, she receives a note to meet him at Afrika. When she notices one of the immigration officials nearby, she realizes that he is being deported. She finally realizes that she loves Georges, and she tells him she will follow him to France where they will live as man and wife.

Critique

Green Card is a delightful and entertaining romance, cleverly using the immigration scenario as backdrop to the proceedings. The issue of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service investigating marriages between American citizens and foreigners is both legitimate and timely. A marriage that has been arranged solely to circumvent immigration law is considered a criminal act, although the principal focus of the authorities in their investigations has been to break up criminal groups that exploit foreigners by providing such marriages for exorbitant cash sums. Marriages of convenience have also been subject to periodic review, however, as depicted in this film. Numerous visitors have gone to great lengths to stay in America, the “land of opportunity,” avoiding the sometimes lengthy red tape of the quota list. Marriages performed abroad between Americans and foreigners have also been closely examined, and there have been cases in which the spouse has been denied entry as an undesirable alien. Immigration laws in other countries vary considerably, and in many cases the alien spouse is automatically granted citizenship. One drawback to Green Card is that the last scene is somewhat confusing and unresolved. It appears that Brontë will emigrate and follow her husband abroad. Presumably, sometime in the future, Georges can apply for readmission to the United States. It is unclear if this will be allowed or not because of the initial deceit. It would probably be in the hands of the agents who would oversee the case, since by that time the legitimacy of his marriage to Brontë would be clear.

Green, Constance (Winsor) McLaughlin (1897–1975) - U.S. Urban History [next] [back] Greaves, William (1926–)

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