Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Who Is Dayani Cristal?

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Who Is Dayani Cristal?

Article excerpt

Who Is Dayani Cristal?

Directed by Marc Silver

(World Documentary)

Who Is Dayani Cristal? is a well-intentioned but disjointed documentary-drama on immigration. It all began in 2008 when Gael García Bernal, Marc Silver, Thomas Benski and Lucas Ochoa decided that they wanted to tell a story about what Bernal calls "one of the main factors that has shaped the history of mankind and the planet: migration." They learnt that each year during the summer months approximately 200 hundred bodies are recovered from the desert in and around Pima County, Arizona and most of these bodies are unidentified. The film begins with the discovery of one such brown and bloated body who bears a tattoo on his chest: "Dayani Cristal." The documentary traces not only the dedicated detective work on this side of the border to discover this John Doe's identity, but dramatizes the migrant's journey from Honduras to Arizona.

They wanted to tell a story that followed the whole process - from the discovery of someone in the desert, to the forensic investigation into their identity, to finding their family and their burial at home. "We had to find a way of creating visually compelling, exciting cinema that was at once a meditation on mortality and bereavement and at the same time a forensic procedural, a mystery and in some ways a road movie," explains producer Thomas Benski. Unfortunately this tripartite genre melding fails to come together in the end. The pathos of the immigrant's family coupled with the empathy of various doctors and investigators in Arizona are more than enough to carry a dramatic documentary. Casting a white-skinned, well spoken, European-trained Mexican actor with nice teeth (Gael Garcia Bernal) in the role of the poor immigrant was distracting. Interspersing this dramatic reenactment with the documentary footage only detracted from the power of the heartbreaking story. For a better narrative account of the perilous journey from Central America to the U.S. look no further than the Sundance 2009 feature, Sin Nombre.

While stylistically this film fails, it succeeds in giving a human face and back story to the hundreds of unidentified migrants who die each year in the desert. …

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