Who Is Dayani Cristal?

Art & Culture

Who is Dayani Cristal? is a compelling documentary accompanied with a strong political outcry for the safety of immigrants. This particular case explores a Latin-American immigrant travelling across The Sonora Desert in Arizona – a trap responsible for roughly 2000 missing persons on the brink of the US in the last decade. This is a result of recent US legislation making it even tougher for those who are merely seeking a better life.

A man is found dead and the documentary is split up into three aspects tracing his path. We follow US officials and forensics teams as they seek to discover who the man they have found is, and like the majority of cases, they have their work cut out. We also meet the family of the deceased immigrant, intimately learning about his life in Honduras and finally, Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal retraces the man’s journey through real life immigration; hopping on and off trains and travelling miles by foot. The man remains unidentified until later in the documentary but throughout he is only known by the tattoo printed across his chest reading “Dayani” on one side and “Cristal” on the other.

Bernal’s presence and background approach towards Marc Silver’s debut feature offers the film a strong backbone. The reconstruction that includes the Mexican actor are certainly well shot and delivered, contributing a genuine impression of this man’s story. An air of mystery is therefore cast upon the documentary in addition to its upsetting interviews with various individuals.

However, in effect this is where the film suffers as it struggles to decide whether to approach the political aspect and have a serious tug on the heartstrings of its audience, or make more of a story of its main character. This slightly distinguishes the true outcry that the film is ultimately attempting to make.

Nevertheless, one undeniable compliment that must be handed to the filmmakers is the quality of cinema, spanning across vast landscapes and beautiful scenery whilst also getting incredibly intimate and detailed with the bones of the deceased who failed to cross “the corridor of death”. This truly brings to reality just how many desperate immigrants risk their lives and are not successful.

The film also must be admired for its intimate interviews with friends and family of the mystery man, bringing to life one of many who leave so much behind simply to discover more efficient means of taking care of themselves and their loved ones. Interviews with members of Pima County Morgue also offer an exclusive insight into the sheer reality and size of the matter in question. These are after all the people who are dealing with these unfortunate individuals every single day – most of whom and unidentified and literally thrown away.

Silver and Bernal don’t quite manage to reflect the arduous nature of an immigrant’s journey. The pair certainly manage to engage its audience but just fail to make this the strong political outcry that it could have been. That said, Who Is Dayani Cristal? is an impressive piece of work and one that on a humanitarian level will hopefully make people take note.


Ross Webber

Who Is Dayani Cristal? is being screened by DocHouse, along with a director Q&A, on Thursday 24th July, 2014 at RIch Mix Cinema.