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In 1890’s Canada, everybody was off to the Klondike Gold Rush, and in Thomas Arslan’s Gold, seven German-American immigrants decide to get there the hard way, via hundreds of miles of uncharted wilderness. It’s a long and surprisingly uneventful trek for the audience as well as for the band of hopeful gold diggers, who plod sullenly through Arslan’s unimaginative script to the accompaniment of an oft-repeated guitar chord. A far cry from the iconic American Westerns of yesteryear, or even a tip of the hat made by foreigners like Sergio Leone, Gold shows so little feeling for virgin forests and majestic panoramas, it feels more like a road movie than a Western. Only the luminous presence of Nina Hoss as a courageous adventurer gets the story off the ground and should augur some domestic success. Offshore, markets are likely to revolve around ancillary.
The only German director in Berlin competition this year, Arslan is a veteran of Berlinale sidebars, where he has earned a following with genre films and character studies like Dealer and In the Shadows. His idea of following German New World immigrants up to the Yukon in search of a better life is intriguing in itself, though it obviously involves measuring up to one of the most heavily mined genres in cinema.
Emily Dreyer (Hoss), whose dour schoolmarm expression can’t hide the fact she’s a classy blonde, makes her lonely descent from a steam engine in a Far West town like Claudia Cardinale arriving in Once Upon a Time in the West. She soon joins a small party of German speakers who have answered Wilhelm Laser’s (Peter Kurth) ad to journey overland to the Klondike. He sells them the necessary and promises them a pleasant six-week journey north on horseback to Dawson City. Only people as poor and desperate as they are wouldn’t smell a rat. The group includes an older couple who will do the cooking from a covered wagon and bossy young newsman Muller (Uwe Bohm) who intends to report on the trip for a German paper in New York, as well as get rich very quickly.
Though she hides it well, Emily’s interest focuses on the one competent male in the lot, Carl Boehmer (Slovenia actor Marko Mandic), who has been hired as a packer and takes care of the horses. Dressed like a scraggly cowboy, Carl makes some wise decisions in the course of the film, but remains disappointingly unheroic. By the time Emily reveals to him she’s a German-born maid from Chicago who has been married and divorced, and Carl confesses to killing a cattle rustler and being on the run from the dead man’s vengeful brothers, they are practically friends. Though restrained by the script, Hoss and Mandic are both strong actors who create some quiet sparks.
Yet thanks to a surplus of expository dialogue, there is something very prosaic about the characters, who are rounded out by a little carpenter (Lars Rudolph) from a New York slum looking to make a better life for the large family he left behind. One waits in vain for them to be tested and grow in the wilderness. Accidents do happen, there is a betrayal and a lot of getting lost in the woods, which passing Indians invariably solve. Still the two-hour running time goes by slowly, weighted down by the barely colored cinematography and a soundtrack of twangy modern guitar chords.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition), Feb. 9, 2012.
A Match Factory presentation of a Schramm Film Koerner & Weberproduction I association with Red Cedar Films, Bayerischer Rundfunk, ARD/Degeto, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Arte
Cast: Nina Hoss, Marko Mandic, Uwe Bohm, Lars Rudolph, Peter Kurth, Rosa Enskat, Wolfgang Packhäuser
Director: Thomas Arslan
Screenwriter: Thomas Arslan
Producer: Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Michael Weber
Director of photography: Patrick Orth
Production designer: Reinhild Blaschke
Costumes: Anette Guther
Editor: Bettina Böhler
Music: Dylan Carlson
Sales Agent: The Match Factory
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