In Spanish-born filmmaker Diego Quemada-Díez's "La Jaula de Oro" (The Golden Dream), about three Guatemalan teenagers making their way to America, the line between constraint and escape is ever shifting, and the promise of a better life up north must always contend with the reality of what it takes to get there.
Quemada-Díez, a former protégé of British social realist filmmaker Ken Loach, takes a similarly naturalistic approach in telling the story of slum breakaways Juan (Brandon López) and tomboy-disguised Sara (Karen Martínez) and sweet-faced Indian boy Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez), who tags along and doesn't speak Spanish. Sara warms to Chauk, sensing a kindred spirit, but Juan, ever practical and determined, would just as soon ditch him.
Through little dialogue, mostly improvised by the nonprofessional cast, Quemada-Díez creates much compassion toward his young travelers and the emotional truths they uncover. Cinematography by Maria Secco makes great use of natural light and the view from migrant-packed trains.
Much of "La Jaula de Oro," which won an award at Cannes two years ago, has the feeling of a living, breathing photo essay on perseverance, but the journey is also treacherous in ways that create ugly shocks to the heart. The movie exists in a space beyond arguments about immigration policy and border security, and while sometimes a little too willfully pokey, it speaks to something indelibly human about dreams and their costs.
"La Jaula de Oro"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
Playing: TCL Chinese, Hollywood; Cinepolis Pico Rivera.