The Golden Dream


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Golden Dream
"A flowing, lyrical film, at times startlingly beautiful, The Golden Dream hypnotises the viewer with its constant movement, its unceasing rhythm."

According to the US Department of Homeland Security, around 20,000 Guatemalans illegally cross the border every year to take up residence in the US. There are many more, of course, who set out with that goal in mind but don't make it. The dangers of the journey are manifold - robbers, slavers, corrupt police, vigilante execution squads and simple exposure to the elements. Yet the American Dream - the certainty that in America anyone can achieve anything just by working hard - is very much alive in Guatemala even as it fades at home. It ensures that there will always be more prepared to try, even if it means leaving behind everything they know.

We set out on this journey with Juan (Brandon López), Samuel (Carlos Chajon) and Sara (Karen Martínez) - the latter disguised as a boy for safety reasons. Along the way they meet Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez), an indigenous Guatemalan who can't speak Spanish and towards whom Juan is immediately hostile, envious due to Sara's fascination with him. Not all of these eager teenagers will make it to the US, but whatever happens, we will be there, carried along beside them by what feels like an unstoppable current, observing all their trials and triumphs and petty squabbles, their laughter and labour and fights and tears. Simply by being there, we will get to know them, admire their courage and tremble at their vulnerability.

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Travelling north starts with climbing aboard moving trains. It's not a discreet abuse of the freight service; thousands of people do it and the tops of the trains are packed. With the sun on their faces, the wind in their hair, the travellers revel in their freedom. They are far from unwelcome in most of the lands they travel through. Strangers give them food and water and places to sleep, often simply out of kindness. Farmers welcome their labour. Entire economies are built around this migration, which seems as natural a part of its environment as the seasonal migration of birds. At times this feels like a nature film. Our young heroes have no structure to their lives beyond day to day survival and the journey; they are wild creatures lured by the prospect of domestication, but wouldn't that be true of most kids without parents telling them what to do?

A flowing, lyrical film, at times startlingly beautiful, The Golden Dream hypnotises the viewer with its constant movement, its unceasing rhythm. It can also be shockingly brutal, and abrupt departures leave us longing for a Hollywood narrative that will grant us resolution, aching from the inability to find out what happened to those who are lost. On this journey, it's easy to be laughing one moment and dead the next. Only the dream is consistent, but can America possibly deliver what is promised?

It's notoriously difficult to make this kind of film work, both at the scripting stage and in the execution. What Quemada-Díez has achieved is a triumph.

Reviewed on: 06 Feb 2014
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A group of Guatemalan teenagers tries to make it to the US.
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Director: Diego Quemada-Diez

Writer: Diego Quemada-Diez, Lucia Carreras, Gibrán Portela

Starring: Carlos Chajon, Rodolfo Domínguez, Brandon López, Karen Martínez

Year: 2013

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: Mexico

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