Director: Thomas Arslan
Cast: Nina Hoss, Marko Mandic, Peter Kurth
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The Western has been back in fashion of late, but with it has come a variance in style and its application. Two of the best films of the last year, S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk and John Maclean’s Slow West, took the period and setting but twisted them to their own means, Zahler going for a buddy road trip/gonzo gore feast and Maclean dressing Ben Mendlesohn in the best coat anyone will ever wear and opting for a surreality that still lingers in the mind. Though filmed a few years ago, Thomas Arslan’s Berlin Golden Bear-nominated effort, Gold, fits into this promising trend. The contemplative, mostly German-language, road movie seeks to show the folly of the Gold Rush, while also telling the story of a woman finding her own identity.
The Gold Rush is something that hasn’t been used by cinema all that much recently, but it was a fascinating time and Gold takes good advantage of it. Alternating between small outposts in large patches of no man’s land, Arslan successfully depicts a harsh landscape with an obviously small budget. It is fair to say, though, that the Arri Alexa cinematography by Patrick Orth doesn’t really make use of the surroundings, the look of the film never extending much beyond muted, cold colours.
Not much of major incident occurs here – no one gets raped by a bear, that’s for sure – but human fears and hubris come to the fore, in ways that feel fairly ordinarily played out, although there are moments that spur the imagination. One scene featuring a wanderer they encounter has an air of mysticism to it and is a highlight, while the individual stories behind why each member of the team is looking for gold have a good amount of satisfyingly-portrayed melancholy. The central relationship, played by Nina Hoss and Marko Mandic, is also well done, Hoss, in particular, playing her character with more strength as she goes on, both physically loosening up and becoming more capable.
It can be a problem with foreign-language cinema that you are sometimes unsure whether someone is giving a good performance, or whether, in their own language, it is more stilted. Gold’s setting in British Columbia requires the odd bit of English dialogue and here, the limitations of the cast, and perhaps Arslan’s direction, is noticeable – the dialogue in these sections feels strained, reactions after line readings feel a beat too slow, at times, and the performances just don’t have the heft of when Arslan is directing his cast in their natural language.
The English-speaking cast struggle in these moments also – an early scene featuring two men on the lookout for our intrepid main ensemble, trying to get some information from an old man, is a contender for the most unnatural thing I’ve seen this year. All this is a shame, as it takes you out of some of the more successful, lyrical stuff the director is going for.
Gold isn’t a must-see and in the mini-genre of pseudo-Westerns of late, it’s not one of the best, but there is enough here of interest to recommend.
Gold is released in the UK as part of the EU-wide Walk This Way VOD initiative. For more information, click here.