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The Golden Dream (La jaula de oro) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
05 07 2014

ImageDirected by Diego Quemada-Díez

Sara, a young teenager, steps into a very basic toilet building, where she cuts her hair short and binds down her breasts. Juan sews a wad of notes into the waist band of his jeans, and walks with a determined swagger through the grimy streets he is leaving behind. Along the way he picks up his friend Samuel who's working on the huge local rubbish heap. Together the three set off to cross from Guatamala into Mexico and then enter the USA, and the golden dream of their bright future.

Sara is now Osvaldo, disguising her gender for reasons that will become distressingly obvious later. At first it's a gruelling walk through the countryside, where they meet the enigmatic Chauk, who speaks only his native indigenous language, but seem more canny in the ways of living off his wits, and sticks along with them, at first as an unwelcome fourth figure, looked down on by the cocky but insecure Juan, who sees the leadership role and the affections of Sara in jeopardy. But as Samuel, always fearful, drops out, the three form an uneasy trio, learning to communicate without language, walking the rail tracks, (an inevitable echo here of those other images of loss of innocence from Stand by Me) riding the trains, taking backbreaking jobs along the way, encountering nightmare cruelties and disasters, and a few unexpected kindnesses - farm workers throw oranges up to the train-top travellers, a priest gives well-organised shelter and food - certain in the belief that once in the States their new shiny lives will begin. Their pathetically childish vision of their expectations is made clear as they pose excitedly in front of a romantised Wild West mural, and Juan steals a fine pair of cowboy boots, the later loss of which signals the breaking of the dream.

This is the debut feature of Diego Quemada-Díez, who's worked as camera assistant on several Ken Loach films. It shows. This documentary style, the uncompromising take on human desperation,, the sudden moments of poetry are, like the best and increasingly rare Loach, totally untinged with sentimentality, propelled by anger and empathy, and at times almost unbearably affecting. Based on many interviews with young people who have made the journey, it moves with tremendous narrative power from moments of innocence and playfulness, adolescent jealousies and racism among the trio to the bigger desperate cruelties of the world they are travelling through. It's a dingy pastoral, a countryside besmirched by the human touch, but at night it becomes surprisingly beautiful, as the whirling snow around a streetlight is the only beauty on arrival in the land of their dreams. It's a hard watch, one of the most painful films I've seen in a long time.

Seen 4 June 2014 at the Transilvanian Film Festival, Cluj, Romania

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