Juan (Brandon López) and Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez) in The Golden Dream.
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The Golden Dream by Diego Quemada-Díez: Freedom pass

Four young teenagers face violence and desperation on the road to California in this modern road movie with clear echoes of John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath and Michael Winterbottom’s In This World.

The Golden Dream (12A)
dir: Diego Quemada-Díez

There is nothing new in The Golden Dream but there is also nothing stale. Cinema has not wanted for searching films about the migrant and immigrant experience. This one, which follows a clutch of teenagers inching by bus, boat, foot and boxcar towards the US from Guatemala, has strong echoes of John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, Gregory Nava’s El Norte and Michael Winterbottom’s In This World. The freshness that the first-time director Diego Quemada-Díez and his soulful, non-professional cast bring to the material renders any sense of déjà vu irrelevant. Familiarity is part of the point. Our inbuilt awareness that millions of people endure hardscrabble lives to pursue a better future expands the breadth of what is on-screen: we know this story is but a grain of sand in the Sonoran Desert.

As the film begins, Sara (Karen Martínez) has already made the decision to head for California with her pals Juan (Brandon López) and Samuel (Carlos Chajon). She cuts her hair, binds her breasts, pulls on a baseball cap and christens herself Osvaldo. Why the charade? We’ll find out eventually.

A fourth youngster, Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez), attaches himself to the group when they all hitch a ride on the same freight train. Any idealistic expectation of solidarity among the poor and oppressed is scotched by Juan’s hostility to the newcomer. His objections are macho in origin: he sees that Sara is charmed by the faltering mimes Chauk uses in the absence of communicable Spanish. There is also the uncomfortable truth that even those on their uppers will find someone weaker to lash out at. This proves true wherever the friends find themselves. There’s a recurring image of an apprehended figure forced to place his or her hands against a wall at gunpoint. Whether it is a police officer, a bandit or a kidnapper whose finger is on the trigger, the dehumanising process is the same.

If the obstacles faced by the group (the violence of border security guards and gangsters alike, the privations of life on the road) are hardly unexpected, that doesn’t make them any less frightening. Quemada-Díez served on the crew of several Ken Loach films (a detail involving stolen cowboy boots may be a reference to one of those pictures, Bread and Roses). He has inherited from that director many admirable traits, including an ability to elicit relaxed, naturalistic performances from untrained actors and a preference for camerawork that is almost invisible.

Not that the visual aspect is immaterial to him. He pulls off a lyrical and very un-Loach-like shot of a model train wending its way through a snowy artificial landscape. And he brings some complexity to the grandeur of Latin America, all vine-tangled train tracks and sculpted deserts, which is undercut by the injustices that take place on its soil – just as the beauty of the toasted-orange skies is rendered fragile, even treacherous, by the crimes committed beneath them. A piano motif provides a bare-bones lament for this process of degradation, with a sorrowful cello and plaintive folk music taking over in moments of extreme crisis.

The political content of The Golden Dream is implicit in the film’s human element without ever coming to dominate it. Quemada-Díez loves his characters and is enthusiastic in coaxing joy from their prematurely aged and scowling faces but he doesn’t soft-pedal their fates. The irony of the title I was prepared for. The bluntness of the vision was more of a shock.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Who was Franz Ferdinand?

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Marvel has moved past the post-credits teaser, and it's all the better for it

Individual stories are suddenly taking precedence over franchise building.

The lasting contribution of 2008’s Iron Man to contemporary cinema comes not from the content of the film itself, but in its Avengers-teasing post-credits scene featuring an eyepatch-sporting Samuel L. Jackson. While post-credits scenes were not invented by Marvel, their widespread adoption in other blockbusters is a testament to Marvel using them to titillate and frustrate.

Fast forward nine years and Marvel’s direction has significantly altered. Having moved to a three-film-a-year structure ahead of next year’s climactic Infinity War, their two releases this summer have featured less explicit connective tissue, using post-credits scenes that are, in typical Marvel fashion, self-reflexive and fun – but this time with no teases for films to come.

Where previous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films have trailed characters donning superhero mantles, confrontations to come, or more light-hearted team ups, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decided to lovingly poke fun at Marvel grandmaster Stan Lee, leaving him stranded on a godforsaken space rock in the outer reaches of the stars. Spider-Man: Meanwhile Homecoming targeted filmgoers who had stayed until the end in expectation of a tease, only to receive a Captain America educational video on the virtues of “patience”.

That isn’t to say that connective tissue isn’t there. Marvel seems to be pursuing world building not through post-credits stingers, but through plot and character. In the past, teasing how awful big bad Thanos is ahead of the Avengers battling him in Infinity War would have been done through a menacing post-credits scene, as in both Avengers films to date. Instead Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 uses character as a tool to explore the world at large.

Nebula’s seething rage is, rather than just a weak excuse for an antagonist’s arc, actually grounded in character, explaining to Sean Gunn’s loveable space pirate Kraglin that Thanos would pit his daughters, her and Gamora, against each other, and replace a part of her body with machine each time she failed – and she failed every time. It’s effective. Thanos’ menace is developed, and you feel sympathy for Nebula, something Marvel has historically failed to do well for its antagnoists. Her parting promise – to kill her father – not only foreshadows the events of Infinity War, but also hints at the conclusion of a fully formed arc for her character.

In the high-school-set Spider-Man: Homecoming, the stakes quite rightly feel smaller. The inexperienced wall-crawler gets his chance to save the day not with the galaxy at risk, but with an equipment shipment owned by Iron Man alter-ego and billionaire inventor Tony Stark hanging in the balance. While such a clear metaphor for widespread change in the MCU might be a little on the nose, the set-up is effective at plaing the film at street level while also hinting at overall changes to the structure of the universe.

Stark gifting Peter a new (and oh so shiny) suit is a key set piece at the end of the film, whereas in 2015's Ant-Man’s Hope Pym inheriting her mother’s own miniaturising suit it is relegated to a teaser. Peter’s decision to turn it down not only completes Peter’s transition past seeking the approval of Stark’s unwitting father figure, but it also leaves the Avengers in an as-yet unknown state, still fragmented and incomplete after the events of 2016’s Civil War. To anticipate Spider-Man joining the Avengers proper is to anticipate the forming of the team as a whole – keeping our collective breath held until we stump up for tickets to Infinity War.

With this happy marriage of the macro and the micro, individual stories are suddenly taking precedence in the MCU, rather than being lost in the rush to signpost the foundations for the next instalment in the franchise. It’s a refreshingly filmic approach, and one which is long overdue. To suggest that Marvel is hesitant to overinflate Infinity War too early is supported by their refusal to share the footage of the film screened to audiences at the D23 and San Diego Comic Con events in recent weeks. Instead, the limelight is staying firmly on this November’s Thor: Ragnarok, and next February’s Black Panther.

Stan Lee, at the end of his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 post credits scene, cries, “I’ve got so many more stories to tell!”, a hopeful counterpoint to a weary Captain America asking “How many more of these are there?” at the end of Homecoming. With Disney having planned-out new MCU releases all the way into 2020, entries in the highest-grossing franchise of all time won’t slow any time soon. We can, at least, hope that they continue their recent trend of combining writerly craft with blockbuster bombast. While the resulting lack of gratuitousness in Marvel’s storytelling might frustrate in the short term, fans would do well to bear in mind Captain America’s call for patience.