An empathetic, richly detailed epic, Diego Quemada-Diez’s road/train/tunnel movie follows four Guatemalan teens’ journey from their hometowns to the U.S. border — and, presumably, a better life.
Quemada-Diez gets right to it, spending no time on backstory, save for the secret of Sara (Karen Martínez), who is introduced in the first scene hacking off her hair and taping down the breasts that will later become a source of some suspense: It’s much better for Sara if the soldiers, cops, transients, and coyotes these kids encounter don’t know they’re there. There’s some arresting drama among the travelers, especially when they’re joined by an Indian boy who doesn’t speak Spanish — even these desperate teens on the hard slog north hold to nativist assumptions about race and class. But much of the film is a wordless journey, the heroes (and often other such seekers) riding along on the roofs of train cars through hard, memorable vistas.
Quemada-Diez’s approach emphasizes nature and naturalism, and the film never pretends that this adventure isn’t dangerous and terrifying. He does indulge in some winning flourishes — the best is a cut from the railroading teens to a shot of a toy locomotive in an elaborate train set, observed by the kids through a shop window. The film could have benefited from more surprises like that — for all its heart and strong performances, there’s little new here.
Still, the ending is perfect, triumphant and heartbreaking all at once, demonstrating that Quemada-Diez gets the reality of U.S. life — and suggesting to those of us who have never endured such a journey that he must get it right, too.
The Golden Dream
Directed by Diego Quemada-Diez
Opens September 4, Village East Cinema