Who is Dayani Cristal? (2 stars)

Who is Dayani Cristal?

Well-intentioned documentary hampered by the presence of movie star producer Gael Garcia Bernal

'The dehumanisation of migrants is something which has allowed this to happen' comments a co-ordinator of the Missing Migrant Project as we watch the cremation of an unidentified individual in Marc Silver’s debut feature Who is Dayani Cristal?

Silver's documentary (on which he also acts as cinematographer) aims to provide a fresh, impassioned take on the subject of illegal migration from Central America and Mexico to the United States. His primary objective is to highlight – using various focalising voices – the tragic downfall of one particular migrant, only distinguishable by the words 'Dayani Cristal' tattooed across his chest.

Through the accounts and activities of federal investigators we are shown the chilling consequences of this desperate quest for a better life. We meet those who are looking not only for answers but also, with a tangible human drive, to give a name and history to these unknown 'numbers'. The investigation process is complimented with snippet interviews with the victim's family, providing the poignant perspectives of those left behind.

The documentary is produced by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, who attempts to recreate the titular migrant's final journey. It’s this aspect of the film which ultimately proves its undoing. When switching to scenes involving Bernal, the interactions play out in ways which seem disingenuous – moving Silver's film confusingly towards the realms of quasi-documentary filmmaking.

The ill-conceived structure and Bernal's anomalous presence sadly diminishes the impact of the material. The insights which feel the most enlightening come from those who've experienced or seen the perils of border-crossing, adding to the overriding sense that Bernal regrettably has little to offer in the context of this documentary. If the question, 'Who is Dayani Cristal?' is ultimately answered, by the end another is posed – namely, 'Why so much Bernal?'

Limited release from Fri 25 Jul.

Who is Dayani Cristal? - Official Trailer

Who Is Dayani Cristal?

  • 2 stars
  • 2013
  • UK / Mexico
  • 1h 22min
  • Directed by: Marc Silver
  • Cast: Gael García Bernal

Well-intentioned but confusing documentary on illegal immigration from Central America and Mexico to the United States, focusing the discovery of the body of a dead migrant with 'Dayani Cristal' tattooed on his chest. Despite genuine insights into the consequences of immigration policy, the presence of producer Bernal…