Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
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:
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.