‘La Jaula de Oro’ is a harrowing immigration movie

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La Jaula de Oro

La Jaula de Oro
Directed by Diego Quemada-Díez
Philadelphia Film Festival
Mexico, 2013 

A harrowing immigration-road movie bolstered by three beautifully natural adolescent performances frames Diego Quemada-Díez as a director to watch.

Teenagers Juan (Brandon López), Sara (Karen Martínez), and Samuel (Carlos Chajon) set out from Guatemala to cross the border into Los Angeles.  Along the way they pick up Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez), a taciturn Indian who changes the dynamics of the group as both he and Juan vie for Sara’s attention.

La Jaula de Oro

The four leads of Quemada-Díez’s first feature-film are startling strong, made all the more so by the fact that each young actor is making his and her screen debut.  While Brandon López starts out as a one-note display of burgeoning masculinity, his Juan soon gains deeper complexities in a nuanced, painful performance from the young actor. Domínguez’s is a deceptively difficult role.  Chauk’s Spanish is limited, so he’s largely silent for the film, communicating mostly in gestures, yet Domínguez is still able to bring pathos and a wide-eyed happiness to the role.

What really sets La Jaula de Oro apart from other movies of a similar form is Quemada-Díez’s daring structure.  There’s never a clear protagonist, and as the group fractures, moves, and encounters various, increasingly dangerous obstacles, it becomes clear that this is no fairytale rags-to-riches story.

A drunken scene by a fire at one of the groups’ stops is a highlight of the film.  Quemada-Díez’s camera moves drunkenly with the actors, as Juan and Sara share a innocent, tender moment and Chauk dances carefree by himself.  It’s exuberant and naïve: a small respite in the midst of a long journey, the true perils of which they are still unaware.

La Jaula de Oro hits too rare false notes at the end, the first with an anomalous, out of place voiceover as Juan reflects on his entrance to the United States.  The second is the ending of the film, which drags out a bit too long and concludes in an overt, on-the-nose factory sequence that hits home a message we already understood.

– Neal Dhand

The Philadelphia Film Festival 
celebrates 22 years and runs from October 17 to October 27, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please see the Philadelphia Film Society’s official site.

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