Gold (Thomas Arslan – Germany/Canada) 101 minutes
A German-language Western set in Canada is about as eccentric a twist on the old-fashioned genre as one can get, though Thomas Arslan’s film, for the most part, observes the Western’s classic modes and tropes. The year is 1895 and a group of seven German immigrants has gathered in British Columbia to follow the Klondike Gold Rush. Except these prospectors, amateurs all, are not rushing it. The expedition’s head, one Wilhelm Laser (Peter Kurth), who has already come about a few nuggets of gold himself, insists that an easier and cheaper route to the Klondike lies through the interior of the Canadian province.
All are people who are giving one last throw of the dice to try and make something of their time in the New World, which has proven to be less than what they expected. There is a young woman, Emily Meyer, (Nina Hoss), who is recovering from an ill-fated marriage in Chicago; a journalist (Üwe Bohm) who is hoping to make his name documenting and photographing the expedition but who has an unfortunate fondness for whiskey; a husband and wife who cook the groups’s meals – barely edible crud scraped together from imperishables; a carpenter who is desperate to get him and his family out of the squalor of their New York tenement, and finally, the group’s ostler, a taciturn Austrian (Marko Mandic) who is on the run from bounty hunters, having killed a man in Virginia. These ingenues are ripped off by eager Canadians, white and Indian alike, and are repeatedly met with incredulity at their intention to trek across uncharted territory.
Things soon turn awry, with divisions in the group arising, and Laser makes the fateful decision not to heed an Indian scout’s advice to take the Indian road instead of the ‘white man’s’ which goes through the forest and which ‘eats the horses’, as the scout says. The film is more than a little reminiscent of Kelly Reichardt’s recent Meek’s Cut-Off, which followed a similarly perilous trek by tyro pioneers, one of them Michelle Williams, on the Oregon Trail. Gold certainly gets the mood and detail right, and benefits from some fine performances, particularly from the coolly impassive Nina Hoss (who shot to prominence last year in Christian Petzhold’s GDR drama Barbara); it also has a good understanding of the Western’s anatomy of space and isolation, and immigrants in the Old West have appeared far too infrequently on screen. It is however a little pedestrian in comparison to Reichardt’s film – the bounty hunters on Böhmer’s trail are inserted in the script in an arbitrary way, and the film never gets quite as dark as it initially promises to. The grinding electric guitar score by Dylan Carlson (of the Seattle band Earth and now most famous for having bought Kurt Cobain that shotgun) is also distracting and strains far too hard to be like Neil Young’s score for Dead Man. Still, Gold is involving enough as a film and is sufficiently off the beaten track (like its protagonists) to be of interest to anyone who is craving a cowboy fix.