Review: Golden Land – Cineuropa

– Let the gold rush begin, in this good-natured documentary by Inka Achté, the winner of the National Audience Award at Tampere

For Mustafe Hassan, the protagonist of Golden Land by Inka Achté, leaving Somaliland as a child and moving to snowbound Finland hasn’t been easy. Time has passed since he thought it was a rich country because “they kept sugar on the ground” – it has been 20 years or so, and now Mustafe has children of his own. They are content in Finland, but then the past comes knocking, as it always does. The land that belongs to his family in Somaliland is apparently full of gold, copper and cobalt. There are only two choices: to sell it to a Chinese company or to try to mine it himself.

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It’s hard to say if he decides to leave everything behind just because of his dreams of fortune. Is he really offering his kids, especially his daughters, a better future this way, or is it a suburban dad’s midlife crisis? Either way, he does, and the family needs to follow.

“In Finland, we will always be outsiders,” says his wife, and more memories other than that “sugar on the ground” slowly emerge as well: of the 1990s-era depression in Finland, when welcoming others was the last thing on people’s minds (“We should not accept refugees in a situation like this,” it’s repeated here in old TV footage), of people who would shout at Mustafe on a train, even though he didn’t know why. Eventually, he decided to become a “good foreigner” – to blend in and master the difficult language. But perhaps he hasn’t forgotten and couldn’t take it when the leaders of a right-wing populist party, “True Finns”, were convincing their countrymen that foreigners would “take their jobs” once again. Hatred, just like life, tends to go round in circles.

Still, after the move to Somaliland, it seems that his children will be outsiders now. His daughter doesn’t like her hijab, the new teacher likes corporal punishment a little too much, and even Mustafe himself laments the absence of rye bread. At first, there is curiosity. But enquiries into whether there are hedgehogs in Somalia turn to dread once the kids realise that there will be no TV where they are going. Oops.

Such small, day-to-day challenges are what makes Golden Land – the winner of the National Audience Award at the recent Tampere Film Festival (see the news) and a Special Mention at DocPoint earlier this year (see the news) – an easy watch. They also engage the audience more than Mustafe’s ambitious plan, jeopardised by bureaucracy and clan tensions, as months in, his mining application is still being processed. It’s interesting why he doesn’t give up, but luckily, it doesn’t turn into some sort of The Treasure of Sierra Madre disaster, with deranged mutterings of gold being “a devilish sort of thing”. Mustafe’s search is a MacGuffin, really, with questions about national identity, or identity in general, taking the front seat. The life that this family created in Finland, the people they met there, it won’t be forgotten – when they come back for a summer holiday, there is happiness and a sense of belonging. Clearly, you can be more than one thing.

These are kind, sweet-natured protagonists to follow, which gives this film a bit of a crowd-pleasing feel – even despite some odd voice-overs, reminding one of a Disney film. It doesn’t dig too deep – ironically, perhaps, given Mustafe’s mining plans – and with Achté at the helm, it’s still an outsider’s take. Then again, maybe there are no outsiders in this story at all. Just people with dreams. And hedgehogs.

Golden Land was produced by Finland’s napafilms, and co-produced by Ingrid Galadriel Aune Falch, Christian Aune Falch, Ove Rishøj Jensen, Magnus Gertten and Lisa Nyed. Its international sales are handled by CAT&Docs.


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