(Written by Intern, Vuong Hoang)
Land of Gold is a tale of family, spirituality, and healing, and one that instilled within me an indescribable amalgamation of warmth and melancholy. Heartwarming and introspective, the film, directed by Nardeep Khurmi, tells the story of truck driver Kiran, an undocumented Mexican American girl named Elena, and their cross-country journey to reunite Elena with her family. Between Khurmi’s incredible writing and performance as Kiran, Chris Low’s breathtaking cinematography, the unfolding of Kiran’s and Elena’s histories, futures, and relationship together, Land of Gold unlocked something within my heart—a profound faith in the idea that we are not alone in this vast, unknowable, uncaring universe.
Land of Gold begins with Kiran, truck driver and soon-to-be father, and Preeti, his pregnant wife, amidst a pregnancy-announcement party. The event is hosted by Kiran’s mother, much to Kiran’s dismay at the showmanship of such a party. Tired of the ordeal, Kiran goes into the backyard for a cigarette. Preeti comes to comfort him, only for Kiran to confess to the unthinkable. He has accepted another cross-country delivery job, and will miss Preeti’s ultrasound, betraying his promise to her. Their conflict quietly festers, right up to when Kiran leaves for his cross-country delivery. Once he checks out the shipping container assigned to him, he finds Elena, a seemingly undocumented Mexican-American girl, hiding in his truck. She hopes to catch a ride with Kiran to get to her uncle, Diego, and he begrudgingly agrees. She swears her parents have given permission to take this long trip, and they know where she is. Throughout the ride, Kiran and Elena develop a father-daughter relationship; one could not help but smile watching them travel across the country, sharing moments of simplistic, playful joy, despite the many trials and tribulations of their circumstances.
Land of Gold is such a masterclass in narrative writing. Nardeep Khurmi is able to explore intersectional themes of family, alienation, and sacrifice in a deeply intimate manner. These themes permeate Kiran’s interactions with every character in the film, especially Elena, through whom Kiran learns to reconcile with the complex relationship of his alcoholic father, and Kiran’s identity as an immigrant. The film uses the age-old American trope of a road trip to tell an effective, emotional story about those made to feel like outsiders in America. The ending is unexpected, tragic yet hopeful, nonetheless. Visions of past and future permeate the scene: the rapid cuts between Kiran’s newborn child and Elena, his figurative daughter, perfectly encapsulates the many dualities within the narrative. There is nothing quite as simultaneously heartbreaking and joyous as watching that last scene.
All of this thematic and narrative brilliance is enhanced by Chris Low’s astounding cinematography work. Land of Gold combines gentle shaky camerawork, tones of orange and green, and sweeping, breathtaking landscape shots to evoke an atmosphere that is enchanting and intimate. A visual highlight for me is a scene where Kiran is mustering himself after a fight with Elena. The sequence that follows is an emotional rollercoaster, as it flips between Kiran in the present with images from his past. The scene culminates in a beautiful low-angled shot of Kiran opening his eyes to the voice of his father underneath a singular lamp post. His past turmoil has built up to this calm, quiet moment of realization and resolve.
Land of Gold implores the viewer to “look at how beautiful the universe is” when it debuts at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival on June 14th .