25 October 2013 | electric_sunrise
Mind-blowing; heart-rending; yet life-affirming poetry in motion!
At the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival, I had the pleasure of watching this brilliant & moving homage to the treacherous journey thousands of Guatemalan immigrants undertake from their home country into "The Golden Cage", i.e. USA, in search of a better life.
Shot in a hand-held documentary-style, the movie gallops at a steady pace without staggering or slowing down too much. It finishes well below two hours, but the complications of the journey and the character experiences make it feel a lot longer than its running time. Maybe its because it is a brilliant road movie with so much happening. Watching these kids whose journey and eventual struggles I soon became an intimate part of, made me feel as though I was living this adventure as it unfolds, traveling beside these children on a train, with the afternoon sun mercilessly blazing into my eyes, my face dried up by the dust in the wind, hair-blowing wildly, as I peer at the ever-changing countryside, with fellow-wayfarers. I felt that way because of how intimately the camera lets us into their lives.
Juan, Samuel, Sara (a girl pretending to be a boy for the journey) and I, the viewer (as the intimate witness behind the camera), begin a journey at Guatemala which we will end in the US. Getting to the US is the only consistent plan, the aim that binds us together; for the rest of the story is like an account of a leaf on a stream; randomly tossed and turned about by the currents of life. We know we'll get there; but we don't know in what condition: Here I lose a friend, there I make a friend; here I dance in a loving crowd, there I am alone in my misery; here I hunt for food, there I'm the object of someone's hunt; here I hitch a train ride, there I run on golden fields. In this uncertain wilderness, yesterday's rival can be today's friend, and characters who disappear from our lives create a haunting presence. In the end, the long journey takes its toll. This is a road movie – yet it is more. It is poetry.
There are great cerebral filmmakers who make you ponder about the nature of Existence (Bergman, Tarkovsky etc); then there are those who draw you into their story in a way that you intimately experience the character's existence and share his world-view. With this impressive debut, Diego Quemada-Diez shows streaks in that second, rare breed; of being not necessarily a cerebral filmmaker, but more of a poet or artist and filling the canvas with strokes of 'feel', and not 'reason'. Diego spends much of the reel time cataloging what these little insignificant lives do – these little dots on the map that flitter about the earth from here to there going seemingly nowhere, affected by the random turns of life; but through the length of the film, he lets us know them personally, and that gives these unknown lives and their unsung stories a soul. On knowing them, we discover they have values of friendship, loyalty, love, honor, sacrifice, without the knowledge or pride of knowing these are noble values. By the end of the film, I recognize what happens to these children might happen to anyone were we not protected by the proud shackles of civilization and education. Theirs, on the other hand, is the raw, wild spirit, proud and dreamy, full of self-belief; yet suffering from their oversimplified, innocent view of the world.
Poetry in film is a tribute I once paid to Joon-ho Bong, after watching his beautifully haunting "Memories of Murder", where the 'feelings' the movie impressed on me stayed well after watching it. In "Memories of Murder", I could 'smell the rain' till few days after watching the movie. After finishing this cross-continental travelogue of "La Jaula de Oro" few days back, I still feel dry in my throat and dry on my face: it is a thirst unquenched. It is a promise unfulfilled. A dream betrayed and denied, as a direct consequence of my ignorance of the world I live in. I feel I have paid for my foolishness; for the reckless pursuit of my desire for a better life, for my over simplified view of the world. Now, I'm more than thousand miles away from home. My skin is full of scabs, my eyes still dirty from the travel, my hands stained with grease from my new job in the promised land, but my head is turned upward, and when in the night, snowflakes fall over my eyes like infinite stars from the sky, I'm cleansed. Like Juan, I know my heart is always ablaze with an infinite Hope for wonder, and that can never die.