La jaula de oro (The Golden Dream, 2013)
Directed by Diego Quemada-Díez
Written by Diego Quemada-Díez, Gibrán Portela, Lucía Carreras,
Starring: Karen Noemí Martínez Pineda, Rodolfo Domínguez, Brandon López
BY JESÚS RODERO
Despite having been premiered in 2013 at the Cannes Film Festival, La jaula de oro deals with a highly topical subject: that of unaccompanied migrant minors from Central America to the USA. It was the first and only featured-length film to date by Mexican-Spanish director Diego Quemada-Díez and received a number of awards at numerous film festivals around the world, including 9 Ariels from the Mexican Film Academy. Quemada-Díez had worked as a camera operator for filmmakers such as Alejandro González Iñárritu, Spike Lee, Tony Scott and Ken Loach. The influence of the latter is obvious in the documentary style the film adopts – with no concessions to sentimentalism or melodrama –, the improvised or (semi)improvised dialogues and the use of non-professional actors.
The story revolves around three teenagers, Sara, Chauk and Juan –a fourth one, Samuel, abandons their endeavour soon in the story. They embark on a dangerous and unpredictable journey to the USA from their native Guatemala on board La Bestia (the beast), the freight trains that cross Mexico from South to North and are used by many Central American migrants to reach the US border. The film’s documentary style helps to highlight the provocative and shocking political and social issues involved. Quemada-Díez worked with real migrants and incorporated real locations in an attempt to become an observer of what was happening around them. Showing factual contemporary events (real migrants on board the actual La Bestia) and placing his actors in front of authentic life experiences give the film intensity and poignancy. However, this is not a documentary; it is fiction with a dramatic narrative structure. Indeed, this drama not only highlights one of the most harrowing and heart-breaking issues in contemporary Latin America, that of child migration, but also puts the spotlight on two other specific aspects: young women and indigenous migration.
Certainly, we see from the beginning how migration affects young women. Very aware of her vulnerability, Sara needs to hide her gender identity in order to be able to make it to the North. Similarly, Chauk, who only speaks Maya-tzotzil, appears as a side-lined and inadequate character because of his race and linguistic ‘limitations’. Interestingly, these two characters are the ones who first establish contact and try to break the communication barrier. It seems that those on the lower scale of migration, the most powerless and deficient characters because of their gender, race or language, are the only ones able to challenge stereotypical images of Latin American migrants. Curiously, it is Juan, the ladino (mixed race) boy, who reinforces these cliché representations of the ‘other’. He is the one who plays the role of the “cowboy”, the one who rejects and tries to marginalise the inferior and untrustworthy ‘Indian’.
However, it is apparent that the director has built this dramatic narrative line as a way to reinforce character development and socio-political criticism. Because, as in any ‘self-respecting’ road movie (or rail movie, rather), we witness our three characters’ minds change as their body travels. Sara, Chauk and Juan learn to accept the other and to show solidarity to the one who is “different” along their journey. And it doesn’t really matter how that journey ends (well, it does, actually, but let’s try to keep a positive optimistic perspective for a moment); the important thing is how they manage, after all, to commit to each other despite all the adversities; despite the snow falling relentlessly over Juan’s head.
Click here for film trailer.