Take the high road

THE GOLDEN DREAM/ LA JAULA DE ORO ★★★★★

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS - Di­rected by Diego Quemada-Diez. Star­ring Car­los Cha­jon, Rodolfo Domínguez, Bran­don López, Karen Martínez Club, QFT, Belfast; IFI, Dublin, 108 min

If you want screen teens to break your heart this sum­mer, then give The Fault in Our Stars a miss in favour of this epic South Amer­i­can ad­ven­ture.

Diego Quemada-Diez’s grip­ping de­but fea­ture opens as Sara, a Gu­atemalan teenager, cuts her hair and straps down her breasts. It’s a good call: sex­ual preda­tors are just one of the many dan­gers she and her trav­el­ling com­pan­ions Juan and Sa­muel will face along the long, pre­car­i­ous trek to the US bor­der.

Not too far into a jour­ney that will take them across Mex­ico, the trio en­counter Chauk, a young Gu­atemalan In­dian who speaks no Span­ish. The other kids are marginalised and de­spised by many of the people they meet: po­lice rob them, farm­ers shang­hai them into hard labour; traf­fick­ers tar­get them for un­spo­ken hor­rors. Chauk is marginalised even within the group.

The chang­ing dy­nam­ics and al­liances among the ju­ve­nile trav­ellers pro­vide a com­pelling emo­tional hook for an epic and fraught trav­el­ogue. Quemada-Diez, a for­mer cam­era op­er­a­tor and pro­tege of Ken Loach’s, spent years in­ter­view­ing mi­grants to cre­ate a screen­play that chron­i­cles col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence just as ef­fec­tively as a folk bal­lad.

The writer-di­rec­tor filmed The Golden Dream chrono­log­i­cally and as hon­estly as could be. The sur­prise and shock on the young­ster’s faces is of­ten au­then­tic, as are the mi­grants and vil­lagers they meet along the way. The young cast were awarded a spe­cial en­sem­ble prize at last year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

Much of The Golden Dream is given over to rooftop train rides, end­less hori­zons and dusty roads, all beau­ti­fully shot by María Secco. A clever, semi-im­pro­vised script never al­lows us for­get that, even un­der such per­ilous cir­cum­stances, these are kids. They goof around. They pose at cutouts. They fancy one an­other.

We hope against hope for a happy out­come, ev­ery step of the way. TARA BRADY

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