Judging from its cool reception in competition at the 2013 Berlinale, acclaimed German director Thomas Arslan's Gold, outwardly a western about a party of German immigrants heading to Canada to dig for gold in the late 19th century, ought to be filed under the category "missteps by European directors aiming at Americana". But Gold is not at all a misstep, since it is not quite what that quick synopsis suggests. It's more of a laidback, dialed-down observation of the American dream as seen from the outside, not so much a western (not even a revisionist one) as an almost Melvillian moral tale, where people are buffeted by fate and choose (or not) to face it head-on.

     While technically Gold has all the trappings of the western - and during the first half also a strong sense of kinship with Kelly Reichardt's equally moody but superior Meek's Cutoff - in reality it applies them to a tale that is much closer to that of film noir; the disparate elements of the party coming together due to their different specialties almost like a gang readying themselves for a heist, the two loners in the group turning out to be the ones who will make it through to the end. These are Nina Hoss's Emily - a modern woman if ever there was one, standing up on her own two feet - and Marko Mandic's jack-of-all-trades Carl Boehmer; a man and a woman who are the ones with nothing to lose, running from their pasts (for entirely different reasons), the ones that are best placed to actually fulfill the "American dream" - all while Mr. Arslan, once again exploring the darker side of society, uses their tale as a wry comment on the the feasibility of a dream that has remained unchanged for the best part of two centuries, and of our need to believe in them when around us things aren't going well.

     Granted, the director's cool, methodical handling, the way he uses the desolate landscape as an expression of the party's desperate search for freedom, underlined by Dylan Carlson's lonesome, metallic guitar music, are hard to reconcile with the heroic appearances of the western, as well as somewhat arid and heavy-going, especially at an almost two-hour length. But, as it clearly becomes visible throughout, it's not a western that Mr. Arslan wanted to do, rather another of his character studies disguised as genre deconstructions. Gold is all the better for it.

Cast: Nina Hoss, Marko Mandić, Uwe Bohm, Lars Rudolph, Peter Kurth, Maria Enskat, Wolfgang Packhäuser
Director and writer: Thomas Arslan
Cinematography: Patrick Orth  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Dylan Carlson
Designer: Reinhild Blasche
Costumes: Anette Guther
Editor: Bettina Böhler
Producers: Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Michael Weber (Schramm Film Koerner & Weber in association with Red Cedar Films, in co-production with Bayerischer Rundfunk, ARD-Degeto, Westdeutscher Rundfunk and ARTE)
Germany/Canada, 2013, 114 minutes

Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2013 official competition screening, Friedrichstadtpalast (Berlin), February 10th 2013


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