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Film review – La Cage Dorée (The Gilded Cage) – 4 1/2 stars

La Cage Doree (The Gilded Cage)

La Cage Doree (The Gilded Cage)

The Gilded Cage (La Cage Dorée) is a charming and engaging film about the dreams and dilemmas of a Portuguese family living in Paris. Much of the charm in the film comes from the charismatic portrayal of the lead characters Maria (Rita Blanco) and her husband José (Joaquim De Almeida) who have long made France their home. Maria works as a concierge in an upmarket apartment building in Paris, while José is a respected, hard-working foreman for a nearby construction company. They live modestly with their adult daughter, Paula (Barbara Cabrita) and teenage son, Pedro (Alex Alves Pereira) in the ground-floor apartment of the complex. When the film opens they both seem to take pleasure from giving unquestioningly to everyone around them. They encounter an unexpected opportunity to realise a lifelong dream which, with the stark realisation it triggers about their previously naïve existence, leaves them struggling with uncertainty and dislocation. The film superimposes this new and urgent dilemma on the everyday, underlying issues that complicate their lives as foreigners trying to integrate into Parisian society.

The concept of the gilded cage is familiar to those intellectuals who work for the Australian government which is known euphemistically as wearing golden handcuffs, because the public service provides such excellent employee benefits and job security that it is difficult to contemplate leaving such a job. The gilded cage is a gorgeous and poetic term for the entrapment that Maria and José experience:

  • Maria had always dreamed of returning to Portugal and owning her own home and José had always felt dislocated from his family home after being estranged from his brother;
  • Both Maria and José are exploited daily by their employers, Maria’s flamboyant sister Lourdes and even the owner of the neighbouring cafe; and
  • None of the family of four is accepted as French, instead permanently trapped as migrants from the poorer country of Portugal.

Surely this sets the scene for Maria and José to take with both hands the opportunity to return to Portugal however it is the poignancy of the gilded cage that leads to the dilemmas that are played out throughout the film.

One of the strengths of the film is the way it acknowledges the intricacies of both the everyday challenges the migrant family faces and the extraordinary considerations coming from their windfall. The deliberations of Maria and José are portrayed in a gentle and light-hearted manner with a cast of engaging and fascinating minor characters, which ensures that the film is not bogged down in emotional angst or melancholy. Quite the opposite – the plot edges towards frivolity and is consistently fun (although at times slightly contrived) and yet the director maintains credibility and weight throughout by not skipping over the subtleties. It has the mark of a story that is carefully written and carefully portrayed, and it is not surprising that it is a ‘semi-autobiographical’ account by writer/director Ruben Alves.

La Cage Dorée is both substantially entertaining yet considered enough to be thought provoking. Its immediate concern is how one should deal with the numerous ties and obligations that simultaneously define and constrain everyday life. It also prompts one to consider the nature of lifelong aspirations and their relationship to reality and most importantly, the sacrifices involved – not just in foregoing them for a more pragmatic existence but also in attempting to realise them. Underpinning it all is the issue of identity, which is something that most of the characters in the film deal with one some level. I suspect that the story of this migrant family will resonate with migrants all over the world as it did for me (my father migrated to Australia with his family and so did both of my husband’s parents). I saw the film as part of a date with my husband as an opportunity to reconnect with one another after returning from my trip to South America. We are committed to living a life that is true to our ideals and the film gave us pause to inspect our lives and ponder our own gilded cage and whether we are in fact living the good life or not? I should mention here that my husband wrote a lot of the (better) content for this post 🙂

2 comments on “Film review – La Cage Dorée (The Gilded Cage) – 4 1/2 stars

  1. william filgo
    December 13, 2013

    I very much enjoy your book, cinema and travel essays. I realize that they are reviews for the most part and not your opinion. They have the most thought provoking effect on me and I am often reviewing a reply or exploring a train of thought. I find myself doing this when I walk my dogs or I am waiting to fall asleep or I am reminded of some point made while watching a show or reading. The metaphor of a gilded cage is pervasive in every facet of life. The autobiographical aspect of this film gives this film its intrigue, because it is the intimacy and truth that makes one feel that a conversation has occurred. It is important to remember that the gilding covers an iron cage, a term also translated as a shell as hard as steel. Max Weber hypothesized that capitalism, bureaucracy and rationalization replaced kinship and lineage as the pathways to power and social organization. The terminology of the iron rice bowl was originally applied to the bureaucracy of China. It has morphed or evolved to include any government funded project that has a life of its own, beyond any wider need for which it once was created. The mobility of population to follow opportunity, an effect of capitalism and rationality, rearranges social order and leaves the migrant and the natives unsure of their place in this new order. Such a predicament will predictably be unsatisfactory and bring about a complicated and ever changing pecking order. Depersonalization comes in the form of discriminating between migrant and native, differing religions, dress, speech and countless subtle clues that allow one person to abandon another. That is the idea of kinship being replaced by the pursuit of external goods. I don’t think the human race evolved with the ability to accept the strains and stress of living so close to so many strangers. The result is the anti-social behavior exhibited by a large segment of the population and the violence that the rules of bureaucracy and rationalization invoke in trying to maintain the peace. I do not see an iron or gilded cage in my life and I don’t think you do either. Someone with the pen name of strive to engage is not in any cage.

    • strivetoengage
      December 13, 2013

      William, thank you for another considered comment. I like the way that you take the content offered and add insightful and thought provoking information that extends the post. You also notice the themes and links that run through my posts. I hadn’t previously heard of the iron rice bowl. Was it termed during the Great Leap Forward? I was talking to an economist recently who was saying that taxes on houses should be abolished to allow more mobility of the labour force and at the time I didn’t extend that to the obvious implication of alienation that comes with being the foreigner. Finally I’d like to say that I’m deeply flattered to think that you have more than a passing interest in what I have to say. That makes the time I’m devoting to blogging, time carved out of a busy and engaged life at some costs, more worthwhile!

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This entry was posted on December 11, 2013 by in Books & Ideas and tagged , , , , , .
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