This story about Guatemalan teenagers trying to escape their life of poverty and illegally cross the Mexican Border after a long and arduous journey en route to the USA, is one of the saddest and most dispiriting I have seen in a very long time. It starts with three friends Samuel, Juan and his girlfriend Sara who disguises herself as a boy, but a native Indian called Chaulk also latches on to them soon after they set out.
The first of their many frightening ordeals occurs in small Mexican town where the Police round them up and immediately deport them back to Guatemala, but not before they rob them of their few possessions and their boots. They quickly find their way back to the Border but Samuel has already had enough and wants to go home. Juan has taken an instant dislike to Chaulk who he thinks is after Sara, but she insists he travels with them, so they all set off again.
It’s not too long before the train they have jumped on along with hundreds of would-be migrants is stopped by the Mexican Army, but this time the three of them manage to escape and seek refuge in a sugar plantation. Back on the train, and this time it is halted by a band of Drug Traffickers who relieve everyone of anything remotely saleable and capture all the women including Sara who is spotted despite her disguise. When the two boys try to save her they are viscously beaten up by the gang and left unconscious in the middle of nowhere.
Chaulk revives first as Juan’s injuries are more severe and the young Indian carries him to safety and nurses him back to health. Soon they are back on another train yet again and are easily lulled into false sense of security by another Guatemalan kid who promises them a job with his Uncle as they will need money to pay smugglers for the final stretch of their journey. It is a trap and they are about to be held hostage for ransom but as this gang is led by a fellow Guatemalan, Juan is let free. However as he won’t leave without Chaulk as he had saved his life, he offers the Captors the few dollars he has to buy the Indian’s freedom.
It is sadly not the end of all the dangerous obstacles they will have to overcome on this seemingly endless harrowing journey, and sad to say, only one of them will make their final destination in one piece. It is in fact a US meat processing plant where he works long hours for a pittance along with all the other undocumented workers.
The movie’s original title is ‘Juala de Oro’ which translates into ‘Golden Cage’ and this is exactly what the kids get for all their dreams. The US willingly accepts illegals cheap labor but will not allow them the proper papers to rise beyond this lowly position. Despite this, and the continual fear of being caught and deported every single day, there will be hundreds of thousands other kids like these, that will still risk their lives for the hope of a better existence.
Directed and co-written by Spanish filmmaker Diego Quemada-Díez (who was a cameraman on many of Ken Loach’s movies) it has a beautiful backdrop of stunning Mexican and Guatemalan landscapes that sometimes makes you forget the sheer poverty and the hardships of its inhabitants. The movie relies on amateur actors, but it is the sheer power of the story that makes it so watchable and also the reason it has won several awards including Un Certain Regard at Cannes Film Festival.