Who Is Dayani Cristal? Movie Review
Actor-producer Gael Garcia Bernal takes a strikingly complex look at the timely issue of human migration from Central America to the United States, which is rarely depicted with such honest humanity. By exploring three sides of a single story, this artful film is an enlightening documentary, a moving drama and a riveting mystery. It also offers a glimmer of hope if politicians shake off party pressures and take some notice of what it has to say.
The film opens in Arizona's Sonora Desert, where more than 200 unidentified bodies are found every year. These are immigrants who desperately travel north seeking a better life for their loved ones back home, but end up as illegals struggling to survive in the harsh landscape. When police find a body with the name "Dayani Cristal" tattooed on it, experts (Bruce Anderson and Ivon Ton-Quevedo) begin the search to determine the man's identity. Meanwhile in Honduras, the missing Yohan is discussed by his parents, wife and children as a kind man who made the trip to the USA to fund treatment for his dying son. At the same time, Garcia Bernal retraces Yohan's difficult journey by rail through Mexico, seeking people who may have met him along the way.
All three strands of this film are so personal that they're impossible to dismiss on the usual political grounds: this isn't the story of an issue, it's about a real man with a family. And through various conversations with people on every side of the story, the true picture emerges of a badly broken system that has been tarnished with lies from American right-wing fanatics who portray migrants as criminals who just want to steal from the US government. The truth is that the economy needs immigrant workers to survive, and the vast majority of them are intelligent, conscientious workers who are genuinely trying to help their families survive. And the problems back home can be directly traced to US corporations that have stolen jobs and resources from their homelands.
By telling this story in such an earthy way, the film manages to never shout too loudly about any of this. Facts emerge through quiet conversations, building to hugely cathartic moments that leave the audience shaken with emotion. The question of the title is answered in a way that's especially moving. But the real achievement is that, after watching this film, it's impossible to think of immigration as an "us versus them" issue anymore. It's hardly even controversial, because these are human beings we're talking about. No, the borders can't be flung wide open, but this system isn't helping anyone.
Cast & Crew
Director : Marc Silver
Producer : Gael Garcia Bernal, Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa
Screenwriter : Mark Monroe
Starring : Gael Garcia Bernal, Lorena Ivon Ton-Quevedo, Bruce Anderson, Kenia Yadina Cruz Rivas, Cristobal Sandres, Rafaela Martinez, Delver Antonio Sandres-Turco, Luis Alexis Martinez Escato