I don’t know what your golden dream might be. A flat in St Pancras Chambers? Tickets to all the film festivals around the world? A fine selection of whiskies, perhaps? For Juan, Chauk and Sara, the teenage protagonists of Diego Quemada-Díez’s THE GOLDEN DREAM, it’s to emigrate from their home in Guatemala to the supposed promised land of the United States of America.
In the opening scene we see Sara masculinising herself. She cuts her hair to a short crop and tapes her breasts, flattening her chest. What dangers can possibly lie ahead of the trio that she needs to hide her femininity?
Quemada-Díez doesn’t shy away from the perils of such an epic journey. He began his career as an assistant to Ken Loach on films including LAND AND FREEDOM and CARLA’S SONG, and his directorial style is reassuringly social realist. Plucked from the slums of Guatemala, the actors playing Juan, Chauk and Sara – Brandon López, Rodolfo Domínguez and Karen Martínez – are a revelation. There is an honesty and passion in their portrayal of the emigrating teenagers, made all the more heart-wrenching by the travails they endure.
The trio set off on a journey in excess of 3,000km, effectively the same distance as travelling from the Orkneys to Syria. For added authenticity, Quemada-Díez shot the film on top of the trains and inside the buses used by the thousands of hopeful emigrants who travel the same route as the film’s protagonists. The golden dream must be intoxicating and addictive to persuade so many people to commence a journey of such staggering proportions. The film ultimately poses the question: is it worth it?
To end up in a 21st-century version of the world of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle seems a cruel fate to befall those ‘lucky’ enough to cross the border into the USA. If the 1914 film version of Sinclair’s 1906 novel had not been lost (like so many other films of its era), it would be interesting to compare it with THE GOLDEN DREAM. The two are separated by a century of cinema, but both focus on some of the most vulnerable members of society.
If, like me, you value such mesmerising Latin American filmmaking, don’t miss the opportunity to see this film on the big screen, and join Juan, Chauk and Sara on their quest for a better life.