Directed by: Diego Quemada-Díez
Starring: Brandon López, Rodolfo Domínguez, Karen Martínez, Carlos Chajon, Héctor Tahuite
This is, at times, a heart rending Mexican drama, a film beautifully and starkly told by Spanish director Diego Quemada-Diez that wraps the audience up into the lives of four children attempting to migrate from their poverty filled background into more hopeful chances north of the border in America. Their plight, which it certainly is, takes us along bold and tense moments, making us see what a challenge these people go through in the desperate wish to make their lives better.
Juan (Lopez), Sara (Martinez) and Samuel (Chajon) are three friends from Guatemala. In their desperate dream to escape poverty, they all travel together to try and make it to America. On the way, they encounter a silent and following Indian native called Chauk (Dominguez), who soon befriends one of the group and joins them on their quest.
The above is a short plot summary, but I really don’t want to go into any more detail of story occurrences because it will spoil the vivid emotion and brutal beauty this landscape provides. Suffice to say, it’s well worth a watch to see the harsh side of migration and see how young friends deal with the side of the world with less money and more fear. It does have a character travelling starting point and a few other feelings that remind you of the classic movie Stand by Me, but that’s as far as the resemblance goes. The story of migration is a grand hot topic, and I’m sure it would cause plenty of room for heated debates, but as director Quemada-Diez says concerning the matter in his DVD interview, “it’s much easier to create empathy” in regards of it by using young actors as the people trying to change countries. You can also really feel the absorbing factor of truth in this plot, and the director’s past, living in a place near train tracks carrying many migrants, gave him plenty of time to hear and pick up accounts that help this movie come alive with believability.
Maria Secco, who handled the cinematography, has massively succeeded in showcasing the wondrous yet troubling sides of Southern America. The landfill site is all too familiar, as often seen in slum like scenes, and then you see the sprawling hilly environment, snaked by a train track, or the midst of trees growing over stone ruins and gapped walls creating a magical atmosphere. It’s a mix of feelings, and one that makes you question what travel brochures show you, when you know in the back of your mind what problems a lot of these places have. This film and Secco don’t scrimp on details, and barefoot journeys through rubbled towns, plantation labour under the sweaty sun and threatening male forces all come together in a frankly heavy broth of dread and agony.
There is great and clever work, not only in the fact based script, but in the presentation of character too. The numerous cut aways to blackness swirled with falling snowflakes leaves you guessing to what this dream-like inclusion is doing there. The final result of why the recurring snow imagery belongs is very good and works to character benefit hugely, making it even sadder due to what’s happened previously. It’s also sometimes stylish in design too, not overly so that it takes you out of the film, but enough to make you appreciate the film more. A glimpse of Sara, or not, or a train cutting to a toy one shuttling along plastic tracks are really quite clever.
All of the four actors in this are stand out brilliant. They’re three dimensional and carry such resounding realness that the film comes across as a documentary, even though it isn’t. They work well together, through their journey, their struggles and their problems with one another. They are the only main cast and are the heart of the film, selling this issue of migration as near perfect as can be. All of them provide so much in “the journey of the hero…the obstacles he encounters” as the director mentions in his interview. The way these characters progress and what happens to each one is so artfully done with acting and script that you’re riveted pretty much throughout.
Quemada-Diez has many brilliant things to say in his DVD special feature and the reasons why he did this film, the casting choices and the inner journey aspect of the metaphorical and literal path his four characters make all do more to make you see how special this film is. The American Dream is a theme used many times but The Golden Dream takes it to more painstakingly real levels and carries you along on the treacherous discovery to how disappointing the dream may actually be after so much danger to get to it.
A fantastic exploration of migration told through the eyes of four beautifully acting teenagers that leaves you reeling as it opens our mind even more to the true ferocity and death filled world of trying to escape poverty.
An interesting 30 minute peek into what drove Diego Quemada-Diez into going forward with this film can be found in the special features in the form of an interview, split apart with headlined segments, such as casting and methods of filming.
The time he ended up living at a house by some railway tracks for over a month, he got to see hundreds of migrants coming over to get food or water. Those words from the actual horse’s mouth motivated him to gain a “collective testimony” of their stories “concentrated in four children”. It’s an interesting background note that you makes you realise why special features open up more knowledge into the building and reasoning of the movie. His views of borders being militarised and a manmade tool in a natural environment segregating zones is a fair one, and makes you question the whole thing whatever your stance on open/closed borders may be.
It’s so clear from the interview that he had a huge passion for the cast and the four actors got a chance to live their dream along with the director making a film he wanted to make. Going through workshops, physical methods with City of God alumni, essence of scenes to get the idea before shooting and then getting the actors to film in chronological order so they never knew what was going to come. This sequence of rehearsal like events really makes them feel more real as characters and the film then evolves into a more lifelike account.
A good insight into Quemada-Diez’s influences and the work and ideas that went into such a powerful and beautiful film.
There is also a short film that comes with the DVD, I Want to be a Pilot, which focuses on a young boy living in the worst possible conditions in Kenya. This 2006 10 minute or so short is directed by Diego Quemada-Diez too, and you can feel his style and directorial stamp over this little tale also. It’s an even more child orientated video with documentary visuals making the harsh reality hit home.
This short film however is deathly real and the turmoil of what this guy has to go through is awful. It’s an all too common sight for us to see dirty slums filled with muddy water and AIDS sufferers come round on charity nights such as Comic Relief or Children in Need every year. It’s a devastating concept that we can only vaguely imagine how bad it truly is, and I’m sure many of us will never fully grip the ordeal so many people in Africa live through, and this short film only touches the surface of people’s plights.
The kid in question narrates his ambitions, and though the repetition of the title makes the whole film sound like a poetry recital, and perhaps a little practised, you cannot deny the impact of what inflicts him, every day sunrise to sundown. The simple words of him wishing to be a pilot just so he can fly far away from the nightmare of his own home is enough to stir up emotion.
It’s a short film that won over 50 awards internationally and it’s evident why. The impactful child based drama of it really strikes a concerning chord and sheds a more artful look on this part of the famished disease ridden third world.
By Troy Balmayer