JDIFF Review – The Golden Dream

Three Guatemalan teenagers set out to illegally cross the Mexican border into the US, with US dollars sewn into their jeans and a plan to jump freight trains until they reach the border. Along the way, they realise that their dream may be harder to achieve than they first thought.

Screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year, The Golden Dream is the latest film from director Diego Quemada-Diez, who previously worked as a camera assistant on many films including 21 Grams and several Ken Loach films.

Quemada-Diez cast three unknowns as the leads in the film; Brandon López and Karen Martínez play Juan and Sara, two kids who are so desperate to realise their American dream that Sara cuts her hair and binds her chest to disguise herself as a boy. As they travel, they meet Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez) a kid they refer to as ‘Indian’, who does not speak the language and is as lost as they are. The three actors persevere through the film bravely, showing the teenage stubbornness that often leads to reward, but in a cruel land; to suffering.

Quemada-Diez film is filled with both hope and despair as the trio travel northwards; kindness is shown by some, but more often than not the kids are robbed, taken advantage of or simply taken. The lives of these three teenagers don’t seem to matter to police or fellow travellers, and in some cases, to one another as racism and cruelty abound.

The trouble with this gritty drama arises in terms of the pacing. At two hours long the momentum of the film is slow for the first half; the cinematography is beautiful, but even though the kids are physically moving, we learn very little about the characters or the world around them. Once the story actually begins to move, however, a brutal tale of selfishness and loyalty emerges and we learn more about these vulnerable but stubborn kids.

However, those hoping for a happy ending with The Golden Dream – the title recently changed from The Golden Cage – may be disappointed, as Quemada-Diez focuses on the reality of the situation the kids find themselves in; there is no deus ex machina here, and every time trust is formed, it is horribly betrayed.

The Golden Dream is a grim tale of the struggle many people go through in order to find a better life. The three kids shine in the lead roles and director Quemada-Diez cements his position as a strong storyteller with an eye for detail and emotion. It’s just a shame that the film is let down by some sluggish pacing.

Rating: 3/5

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