Tuesday, October 01, 2013

German Currents ’13: Gold

Is it worth risking life and limb for the chance to go bust in the Klondike goldfields? A party of German immigrants believes so.  They will endure exploitation and the elements for their dreams of precious metal in Thomas Arslan’s Gold (trailer here), which screens as part of the Goethe Institut’s German Currents: Festival of German Film in Los Angeles.

There is gold in those hills some place.  Unfortunately, Laser, a German promising to take a ragtag group of prospective prospectors up to the remote gold-crazed town of Dawson is a total phony. Although Emily Meyer has few illusions about their guide’s reliability, she continues on the journey.  Like the rest of her group, the divorced former domestic servant has no life to go back to.

At least Laser hired a dependable packer. Carl Boehmer has never been so far north either, but he has cause to make himself scarce.  As the harsh conditions take a toll on the travelers, a quiet mutual attraction percolates between Meyer and Boehmer, but it is a halting flirtation, due to reasons of privacy and privation.

Gold certainly demonstrates how ugly survival can get.  There is at least one scene that will surely have audience members talking afterward and may unfairly come to define the film.  Following in the tradition of revisionist westerns, Gold is pensive but never pokey.  In fact, it observes western conventions when you least expect it.

Nina Hoss is a brilliant choice to play the reticent but resilient Meyer. Following up remarkable work in Barbara and A Woman in Berlin, she once again delivers a tightly controlled but infinitely suggestive performance. She finds a fitting partner in Slovenian actor Marko Mandić, who has a real Viggo Mortensen vibe going on as Boehmer.

Gold is rather fascinating as an example of the Old World engaging with the New World. It looks terrific, thanks cinematographer Patrick Orth’s John Ford-worthy vistas. Dylan Carson’s reverb-heavy electric guitar score also evokes the haunted past, while sounding ultra-retro-contemporary.  Finely crafted and gritty as trail dust, Gold is a good film as well as a curiosity piece. Recommended for fans of naturalistic westerns and German cinema (two sub-sets that do not often overlap), Gold screens this Sunday (10/6) at the Egyptian Theatre as part of this year’s German Currents.