Last updated: July 24, 2014 5:07 pm

Who Is Dayani Cristal? – film review

Gael García Bernal retraces the journey of a dead migrant in this disturbing documentary
Gael García Bernal in 'Who Is Dayani Cristal?'

Gael García Bernal in 'Who Is Dayani Cristal?'

“Good fences make good neighbours.” Tell that to the US, which shares a fence with Central America. Tell it to Central America, desperation-driven to test that fence a thousand times or more a year; and then to test the deadlier keep-out zone of the Arizona Desert. Who Is Dayani Cristal?, a documentary produced by Gael García Bernal and directed by Marc Silver, starts with a sight nearly routine for Tucson area locals: the rotting corpse of a migrant, curled up near a cactus. Tattooed on his chest: the words “Dayani Cristal”. Autopsy verdict (unofficial): died of hope.

In a clever wheeze – which unfortunately begins to seem just that – actor/producer García Bernal embeds himself as a pretend migrant, retracing the dead Honduran’s journey. Dusty roads; dangerous borders; dodgy soup kitchens; dazzling sway of the trans-Mexico journey atop the train called La Bestia.

Do we buy a famous Mexican movie star going native with the indigent? (Why don’t they all shout: “Ooh look, it’s Gael García Bernal!”) More interesting – more heartbreaking – is the Stateside battle to sort and identify the tragedies. The Arizona cops and pathologists reach a groping hand towards the south, across that damn fence, and say: “Can you help us? Is this man/woman/child yours?” The identity of the man at the beginning is finally uncovered, like a wound still bleeding under the bandage of time. We meet the wife and family, inconsolable. From them, more than from García Bernal, we learn the cruelty of a system of hope in which the longing for a better life is the bait to lure people to an untimely death.


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