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Who is Dayani Cristal? Movie review.


Who is Dayani Cristal? Movie review.


Kino Lorber Films

Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes

Grade:  A-

Director:  Gael García Bernal, Marc Silver

Screenplay:  Mark Monroe

Cast:  Gael García Bernal

Screened at:    Review 1, NYC, 4/16/14

Opens:  April 25, 2014

They like us!  They really like us!  No, not the Lebanese or Pakistanis, Slovenians or Russians.  They’re Mexicans, many of whom literally risk their lives to cross to us at the fenced-in border between our two countries.  Never mind that the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo lifted parts of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado from our loving neighbors to the South, reliving the Mexicans of at least one-third of their nation.  They seem to forgive us, so much so that many Mexicans are perfectly willing to leave their home country and to work here in the good old USA for minimum wage at jobs that Americans allegedly do not want.  These fellows on the run—not only from Mexico but from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—are not looking to dig up our sidewalks lined with gold but are realistically and with great ambition prepared to sweat in the heat of Arizona and other parts so that they and members of their families back home can live better.

And what does the U.S. government do with people who unlike Lebanese, Pakistanis, Slovenians or Russians are ready to kiss the American flag to live better than they do in their own country?  Why, we catch ‘em, put ‘em in detention centers, and fly ‘em back home, thereby adding to America’s debt and deficit rather than taking advantage of their ambition.

What’s it like to you to read statistics such as: Between 150 and 250 migrants die in the desert annually.  In the past 10 years 2,000 migrants have died this way, according to the New York Times sourcing the Arizona Recovered Human Remains Project and No More Deaths.  This does not touch your heart?  Not your fault since these are statistics.  How do we get to touch your heart?  By putting the human touch on these figures.  How do we do that?  Thanks to the humanism shown by director Marc Silver (“The Road to Freedom Peak,” about former African child soldiers) and scripter Mark Monroe (“The Tillman Story,” about a fellow who gave up a multi-million dollar football contract to enlist in the service), we in the audience can see an actual troupe journeying from Honduras and Mexico, braving a ride on the top of a slow-moving train called “The Beast,” and joined by actor Gael García Bernal.

Now, “Who is Dayani Cristal?” does not carry the thrills of Gregory Nava’s 1983 masterpiece, “El Norte,” arguable the best movie ever to come out of Central America and dealing with  teen sibs who leave their destroyed Guatemalan Village and journey to Los Angeles.  This is a documentary.  But happily it is a documentary without overbearing talking heads.  Instead, García Bernal rides with these migrants on “The Beast,” fraternizing with them, making them comfortable with Marc Silver and Pau Esteve Birba’s cameras, and getting their story directly from the horse’s mouth, as it were.  He focuses as well on the people back home, particularly on the Honduran family of a man found dead in the Arizona desert with “Dayani Cristal” tattooed to his back.  Who, indeed, is Dayani Cristal?  You will find that out soon enough as your watch the film but here is a hint: it is not the name of the Honduran victim, lying in the Arizona desert with flies buzzing around his unlucky carcass.

Not all Arizonans are heartless despite what you hear from the media about that state’s hostility to undocumented immigrants.  In the Pima County, AZ Medical Examiner’s office, we watch as a sympathetic official cuts into John Doe corpses, in one case removing the poor guy’s hand to get better fingerprints.  We watch as Arizona sheriffs gently lift bodies from the sand, covering them in white zipper bags for shipment to the freezers.  A doctor, Bruce Anderson, states that while crossings are down, an effect of increasing the border patrol five times over, deaths are not.  Bernal, who obviously shares the filmmakers’ leftish politics, would like U.S. policy to change, but nobody in the film states just what this country should do.

The 35-year-old, Guadalajara-born, Bernal was the perfect choice for principal character and narrator,a fortunate one given this splendid performer’s terrific characterizations in Walter Salles’s 2004 movie “The Motorcycle Diaries,” dealing with Che Guevara’s youthful motorcycle trip which led him to seek justice in the Americas, and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Y tu mama también,” about a road trip involving two youthful males and an attractive older woman: a tale of sex and friendship.  The story is filmed on location in Honduras, Mexico and Arizona by Marc Silver and Pau Esteve Birba, who took away the Best Cinematography award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

80 minutes.  © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+

Acting – A

Technical – A

Overall – A-


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Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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