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EIFF 2013: 'Gold' review

★★☆☆☆
A German western starring Nina Hoss, Gold (2013) follows up its Berlinale premiere with a showing at Edinburgh. A tale of greed and migration, Thomas Arslan's ambitious genre piece sadly fails to rise above a gentle canter in this bland and strangely pedestrian feature. An alluring balm for the soul, the lure of gold has drove many across the landscape of Canada in search of prosperity. Set in 1898, Gold follows the trials and tribulations of Emily (Nina Hoss) a young female divorcee who joins a group of German settlers who are embarking on a perilous journey north in search of the lucrative gold country of Dawson.

Commencing as a septet, the group slowly dwindles as the hardships of this 2,500 km expedition take their toil, with each and every step further north leading them further into a wilderness of despair and despondence. For a director whose protagonists always seem to be in a constant in a state of inertia, the western genre and its myriad of treacherous expeditions into the wilderness seems like the perfect foundation for an ambitious period feature.

Kelly Reichardt's minimalist 2010 pilgrimage across the Oregon desert, Meek's Cutoff, is perhaps the most appropriate contemporary thematic comparison with Gold, yet sadly Arslan's film never quite reaches that same degree of nervous intensity. Indeed both films star a strong female protagonist who's the very antithesis of the genre's stereotypical role of women as damsels in distress. Hoss is her usual captivating self, brooding with a fierce range of emotions without even flinching a muscle. Sadly, her resilient and empowered performance is wasted on a film that through a complete disregard for character development has left her stranded amongst a rag tag group of blank, empty faces.

Throughout the history of cinema, westerns often stood to stress the harness of the wilderness, frequently set amongst arid, desolate landscapes. However, in Gold the terrain they must circumvent is far too picturesque, offering no natural peril, a narrative element the film's script is sorely lacking. Food reserves are never in danger of diminishing, the usually temperamental weather remains clement throughout and even the bloodthirsty bandits tracking the group's packer remain hidden in the film's wafer thin framework.

It's this lack of any substantially challenging obstacles which ultimately makes Gold such a banal reworking of the western genre, offering the audience little in the way of entertainment or palpable suspense. Sadly, Arslan's Klondike Trail saga is a tragically uneventful voyage into the Canadian wilderness that, through its inert, pan-handling direction, comes up with bronze instead of gold.

The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble

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