For an introduction to the concept of Thankful for World Cinema please go here.
The Golden Dream (2013)
La Jaula de Oro is a film that I was completely unaware of until one of my more dedicated readers saw an article written about it in light of the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes and sent it my way. The film then ended up on My Radar and one I wanted to see not only based on the story but based on the director’s work with non-professional young actors in this film.
La Jaula de Oro follows three Guatemalan teenagers Juan (Brandon López) , Sarah (Karen Martínez) and Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez) as they try to get through Mexico and ultimately across the US border.
This is a film that has very little reliance on dialogue and few conversations of any consequence. It’s a story that’s told with visuals at the forefront, focusing on the landscapes around the characters and how they interact with them and each other non-verbally.
The film sets this tone early on as we watch Juan and Sarah each make their own preparation for their first attempt to leave. Some of the maneuvers made may seem curious but as events play out they will become clear. Other occurrences that are wordless are the way the characters change in the way they look at each other. This quietude is almost by necessity inasmuch as Chauk is a Guatemalan native and does not speak Spanish; therefore nonverbal cues are key.
López, Martínez and Domínguez all perform admirably in this film and based on the direction, and the work they all put in together, you’d never guess that this was their first venture. López has perhaps the most challenging role before him not just being the lead, but also taking a seemingly simple arch through several one-note iterations and slowly progressing. However, the progression does come through. Martínez has a persistent duality to her role as the has to have a gentle nature but also be tough enough to be believable as a boy, as she is traveling as such. She achieves both these tasks with ease. Lastly, Domínguez through all his close-mouthed stolid persona has to emote wordlessly with few single reaction shots and manages to.
In an interesting decision that I’ve seen a few times, but never as persistently as in this film, when Chauk does speak his native tongue it is not subtitled. His companions don’t understand exactly what he said so neither do we, but in most cases we get the gist.
The film does illuminate many situations and facts about the northward migration that most either don’t know or never considered. Firstly, that it’s not just Mexican citizens trying to cross the border but also some of the realities on the road, which is really the focus. For the film eschews the MacGuffin of illuminating what is exactly that’s prompting these teenagers to make their attempts solo. It cares about the journey instead.
La Jaula de Oro puts its characters before any overarching messages. Sure, they are there if you look for them based on how certain situations play out but they are never vocalized. It’s a depiction rather than soap-boxing and it’s one of the more compelling dramatizations of this journey that’s been rendered in the past several years.