La Jaula de Oro is Spanish for ‘the Gilded Cage’, a reference to the lives of illegal immigrants in the USA, unable to move around freely and forced to take the worst jobs. The film, translated as ‘The Golden Dream’, is the story of four Guatemalan teenagers who, together with hundreds of other real-life migrants, set out on the journey to enter California illegally. It is a story portrayed with brutal realism by Diego Quemada-Diez, a protege of Ken Loach and told with Loach’s characteristic compassion for the poor and dispossessed.
The four teenagers, played impressively by non-professional actors, leave the poverty of the Guatemalan slums, train-hopping their way across the rolling green hills of northern Guatemala through the desolate beauty of the Mexican deserts. The dialogue is mainly improvised and minimal, and the story is told through the shocking, graphic and relentless scenes which show the lengths to which economic migrants must be prepared to go for the promise of a better life. They are at the mercy of border police, murderous gangs, cheating people smugglers, and opportunistic drug barons. Life is cheap, and people’s humanity to others is shown only briefly, in the tender friendships that develop between the young people, the compassion shown by some locals who throw oranges to the travellers on top of the trains, or when a priest offers food and a night’s shelter, but there is no sentimentality here.
It’s a gripping and shocking film, but also a timely one. With comparable scenes of horror being played out in the Mediterranean, around the Australian coast and along the US/Mexico border, this is a film that gives some insight into the human stories behind the headlines.
‘A beautiful film, full of human warmth, compassion and truth. The struggle of the innocent is caught with precision. And it is clear that the real enemy is beyond their reach or comprehension, but nonetheless very present in the film. Terrific!’