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    The Golden Dream (2015): Movie Review

    “A powerful and harrowing portrayal of the plights of Latin American illegal immigrants.” 

    Four South American youngsters embark on an American chase in The Golden Dream (Spanish: La Jaula de oro), the debut feature of Spanish-born director and co-writer Diego Quemada-Diez. Screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, this near-pantomimic drama explores the quandaries of illegal immigrants in Central America.

    From his rough slum in Guatemalan barrio, 16-year-old Juan (Brandon Lopez) packs his meager belongings and starts a careless journey towards North. Sharing the same passion with him are Sara (Karen Martinez), a girl his age who has to cut her hair, tape her breast tight, pull on a cap and pose as a boy named Osvaldo, and Samuel (Carlos Chajon) who is quite hesitant with this trip.

    Along the way, somewhere north in Chiapas, they pick up the sweet-natured and kind-hearted Chauk (Rodolfo Dominguez), a Mayan who speaks virtually no Spanish. While Juan displays aggressiveness towards Chauk, Sara and Samuel try to befriend him. With a few possessions and cash in their pockets, the foursome will cross borders in an adventurous road trip filled with misfortunes, tough luck and acts of human kindness. 

    The Golden Dream is an evocative and empathic social-realist drama. Through the dauntless fortitude of four young adolescents, we are taken into a perilous illegal journey from South America going up north. It is a grim reality and with outstanding credibility, the film genuinely depicts this with powerful richly-detailed visuals. The quartet must contend with corrupt police officers, merciless bandits, a gang of kidnappers and human traffickers, and before stepping into the land of opportunity, a US-border patrol sharpshooter. Their experience ranges from being harassed by law enforcers, robbed, kidnapped, forced to work as drug mules to being shot at. Despite violence along their trip, there are also nuggets of kindness, such as strangers throwing fruits to those sneakily riding the train and sheltering them from Mexican immigration police.

    Though looking drab, the grainy and rough texture of camera shots, as well as the natural lighting employed, further intensifies realism, giving truer sense of bliss, fear or sadness. The vistas from the jam-packed trains are stirring, inducing mixed emotions from the endless parched deserts to the crowded ghettoes. The participation of 600 real migrants added further verisimilitude to the film. Frame by frame, the images are haunting and breathing, magazine-spread-worthy photos of the plight of illegal immigrants.

    The movie is unpredictable, keeping audience wondering what misadventures await the leads. But whatever the trains take them, they remain absolute and hopeful. Juan may be abusive and hostile towards Chauk in the beginning but the most touching moments are between the two as they develop brotherhood and mutual dependence. The film speaks of human dreams and their costs, but in the end, a harsher reality awaits them. As the cliché goes, not everyone who reaches the finish line wins. 

    The Golden Dream is a modest yet powerful study of a sensational political issue. It foregoes back stories and talky scenes to give more time to depicting realities it wants to convey. Imageries are harrowing and combined with the courageous and heartfelt performance of its young casts, it successfully delivers its message. 

    Production companies:  Animal de Luz, Machete, Kinemascope 
    Cast:  Brandon Lopez, Rodolfo Dominguez, Karen Martinez, Carlos Chajon 
    Director:  Diego Quemada-Diez 
    Screenwriters: Diego Quemada-Diez, Lucia Carreras, Gibran Portela 
    Producers: Inna Payan, Luis Salinas, Edher Campos 
    Director of photography:  Maria Secco 
    Production designer:  Carlos Jacques 
    Costume designer:  Nohemi Gonzalez 
    Editor:  Paloma Lopez Carilo, Felipe Gomez 
    Music:  Jacobo Lieberman, Leo Heiblum


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