The Golden Dream

A group of Central-American teen-agers depart from the slums of Guatemala City escaping poverty and violence, towards the promised land of California.

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  • ★★★★★ review by The Spork Guy on Letterboxd

    The Golden Cage, aka The Golden Dream, has got to be one of the most beautiful, authentic and harrowing tales of illegal immigration I've ever seen represented on film. I was simply blown away at how realistic, yet enthralling every moment of this celluloid adventure truly was. Not quite "The Grapes of Wrath", nor is it exactly "El Norte". This is a story of its own, throwing 4 adolescent dreamers into the fray, all of whom yearn for a prosperous future in America. Traveling north from Guatemala, this small group of nomads set out by means of train, boat, tunnel and foot in order to reach what they understand as a promised land.

    The film masterfully deals with the themes of prejudice, willpower and brotherhood in way most movies can only dream. And speaking of dream, this film's final act is something of a wake up call to the world itself. Getting to see everyday events put into a perspective less viewed is something we as a species need to witness, let alone comprehend. It is through this understanding that we will someday be able to make the correct and humane judgements we must in order to thrive. As a man living in Murrieta, a city famous for turning back a bus full of children attempting to escape certain death, who were then killed or labeled as missing upon their return, the beauty of this feature only further solidified my sympathy for the subject matter in question. They say art can change the world? Well, when the brush strokes are this fine, you can call me a believer.

    - The Spork Guy

  • ★★★★ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd

    Diego Quemada-Díez steps forward from being assistant to directors such as Ken Loach to introduce his debut film, showing us the perilous journey undertaken by South Americans who risk everything in the hope of reaching America. These types of film from the continent are nothing new, with Una Noche and Sin Nombre being two of the more recent films that spring to mind.

    So what's the spin on the subject here? Why should we be interested in just more of the same? Well, similar to Loach, Quemada-Díez grounds himself in a naturalistic approach to draw out a powerful message, one that doesn't feel the need to evolve with forceful melodrama. At times it seems as if the actors are playing this for real such is the subdued style employed by the director.

    We meet the group of three teenagers as they prepare to leave their slum town in Guatemala. Juan, Samuel and Sara, who shortens her hair and tapes up her chest in an attempt to look more masculine. They are soon joined on their travels by an indigenous Guatemalan, a Mayan Indian boy who speaks no Spanish. The goal is the same for everyone in the group, the American Dream or bust.

    They are seen in almost constant motion throughout, be it riding the railroad, walking the tracks or evading capture from the immigration guards or local bandits. A whole sub-economy exists off the back of this constant migration that benefits those who offer honest work and others who manipulate and steal. The route is fraught with dangers both from external forces and others they travel with. Companionship is hard to find when everyone's life sits on a knife edge.

    Quemada-Díez simplistic approach with these first time actors pays off handsomely. He captures some beautiful wide shots of the sun-kissed landscapes they pass through, offering a real counter balance to the horrors the group face on their trip. The last dialgoue free moments of this mood driven piece manages to encapsulate the reality of this experience for so many, a lingering atmosphere not easily shaken off over the credits.

  • ★★★★ review by Edgar Cochran on Letterboxd

    Diego Quemada-Díez has always worked as a camera assistant or operator in a number of famous Hollywood productions, some of them including 21 Grams (2003), Man on Fire (2004) and The Constant Gardener (2005). It is time, however, for the Spain-born camera guy to direct his first feature, and his directorial effort just resulted to be a better movie than most of the ones he has participated in only capturing the moments.

    If there is a continent that has filled its immigration-based quota of films, it is Latin America, especially during the last 30 years. Countries like Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and now Guatemala have provided a decent amount of real life testaments depicting the harrowing realities of crossing a national border. Probably the one standing out today is still Gregory Nava's El Norte (1983), a film shot in Mexico that even received a Criterion Collection release. However, this one is not far behind.

    The three films mentioned in the opening could give you an idea of the amount of realism that the film carries. That expectation is exactly fulfilled as imagined, and then more... The whole realistic minimalism is so absorbing that any tragic outcome is felt as something more naturally portrayed that melodramatically manipulated. There is no need to be blatantly cruel towards the characters with extreme graphic representations, because the whole struggle seems irresistibly human, and any loss is perceived as unavoidable outcomes impossible not to be moved by.

    The greatest sign of respect that Diego shows is loyalty towards the real-life situations, leaving them untouched by clichés or melodrama. Thanks to this, the film feels like an authentic, empathetic wake-up call not only for the members of the respective societies referenced here, but also to the authorities in charge of executing their own justice as if they were perfect jurors of the human condition. The movie moves from one event to the next, becoming a full collage of a decent percentage of the difficulties faced by those crossing an entire country in order to fulfill their idealized mental version of the American dream, which is itself a paradox.

    Perhaps the film transforming itself into a road movie with light humor to provide relief feels out of context. Also, the protagonists manage to escape from a number of situations big enough to believe as an obvious vehicle to keep the engine running. However, in the end, we realize the meaning of this "golden cage". This irony is perhaps one of the most honest, but equally disturbing conclusions to digest in Latin American cinema of the last two decades.

    Acclaimed at Cannes and other festivals in 2013, this film deserves attention, respect, and above all, empathy.

    78/100

  • ★★★★½ review by Craig Minett on Letterboxd

    I watched The Golden Cage ''La Jaula de Oro'' at a film festival recently and went in without any expectations, it just blew me away with a story that kept me enthralled throughout. It's a road movie with three teenagers heading from Guatemala City to the American border in the hope of finding a better life, we get to see how a life of poverty will make people desperate enough to fall prey to drug smugglers, bandits and border patrols.

    It's beautifully shot by the cinematographer 'María Secco' as she captures the journey the teenagers take from the top of train carriages through the captivating landscapes that hides a dangerous underworld of criminal activity.

    The three central leads are fantastic and over the course of the film we get to see the three actors dealing with a variety of emotional issues including fear, Jealousy, hope, despair, compassion and courage; we see a strong bond form between the three teenagers over time and it makes you feel more invested in the journey they are on, they feel like real people dealing with issues we can all relate to.

    The film is directed by Diego Quemada-Diez who coming from a cinematography background really knows how to perfect the look and feel for the film, it's his first feature and with a debut as good as this, I can't wait to see what he has in store for us next.

  • ★★★★ review by Jeff Stewart on Letterboxd

    A dark, perilous, and tragic immigrant story(s) centering on three Guatemalan teens that set out north to cross the Mexican border into the USA. Harsh, gritty, naturalistic and ultimately heart-wrenching look into the dangerous journey that hundreds put themselves on to reach the supposed 'land of opportunity'. An unflinchingly glimpse into a politically sensationalized topic that is very much a reality for many poor souls.

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