A few years ago there was a film called Sin Nombre, which did very well for its director Cary Fukunaga. La Jaula is essentially the same film, following the path of three Guatemalan kids as they try to make their way across Mexico towards the promised land. The difference is that, whereas Sin Nombre offered a sentimental variation on the tale, La Jaula de Oro makes no bones about the cruelty and hardship involved in a journey which ultimately leads not to Los Angeles, as Juan, one of the trio hopes, but a desolate job in a snow-ridden corner of a troubled land.
Guatemala and Mexico are perhaps even further away from Montevideo than Moscow, (say) might be from London. The barbarity revealed in the story feels as distant here as it would in London. There are those at the Montevideo Film Festival, where Jaula screened, who are perhaps sceptical of its vision of the downtrodden 3rd world being presented yet again for the voyeuristic delights of a 1st world audience. (It’s interesting quite how unpopular Ciudade de Dios is here, in spite of the involvement of Charlone). Nevertheless, Jaula possesses an undeniable integrity, refusing to let its audience off the hook. The three child actors whose journey we follow are as beguiling as we might expect, but their fates are not, and there’s no attempt made to sanitise the story.
In contrast to Sin Nombre, the film has a quasi-documentary feel, with the kids' fellow-travellers feeling like real people rather than extras. In addition Jaula mixes moments of great visual beauty with a roughness around the edges which ensures the viewer doesn’t become seduced by the picturesque nature of the journey across country. A paradox of the “immigrant road movie" (see also Winterbottom’s In This World) is that, in spite of the cinematic joys of witnessing landscapes and vistas we will probably never know, when telling the immigrant’s bleak story there’s little scope for the pleasures of aesthetics. Quemada-Díez treads this fine line with care. His movie might occupy familiar territory, but, as the gruelling last scenes emphasise, this is no fairground ride. Rather, it’s a film which seeks to take its place within the great abattoir of our tiny globe’s modernity.