This year’s London Film Festival’s ‘Dare’ strand boasts a selection of ‘in-your-face, up-front and arresting films that take you out of your comfort zone’. When a film is introduced as such, one naturally assumes it’s either going to be gratuitously violent or just achingly worthy. However, The Golden Dream, the debut feature from Guatemalan director Diego Quemada-Diez, is neither, and in fact should go down as one of the understated gems of this year’s line-up.
It tells the story of four adolescent émigrés making their way from Guatemala, through Mexico, and to the US border. They travel on foot, but actually spend most of their journey balanced precariously on the top of trains. The eclectic bunch include Sara (Karen Martínez), who in the opening scenes cuts her hair and tapes her breasts to protect herself from the perils of the road, and Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez), an Aztec Indian who speaks no Spanish.
The film was inspired by the accounts of over 600 travellers who have undertaken similar journeys and it’s the details gained from these accounts which make The Golden Dream a success. It creates a deepened sense of realism, but also a certain humanity. The farmers who line up to give fruit to the travellers as they pass by or the deadly lengths some are prepared to go to pursue their journey reflect the often harsh reality of illegal migration without wallowing in the voyeuristic, graphic details.
The film’s combination of road movie and coming-of-age tale works well: the borders between youth and adulthood become defined by the brusque and often traumatic experiences of the road. Ultimately, the brutal and understated finale of The Golden Dream will divide audiences. All the same, this is a film which crosses borders, pushes boundaries and is certainly well worth seeing.
Ed Noel is the schools and alumni coordinator for the Debating Matters Competition.