Of the many issue-oriented docs at Sundance this year, the first day’s screenings brought the world premiere of “Who is Dayani Crystal,” a well-crafted documentary about the plight of Latin American migrants. Produced and featuring Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal, I was initially suspicious about his role in the documentary. But as the film unfolded, I found the actor’s easygoing presence to be a helpful guide into the lives of the thousands who make the often ill-fated journey to cross into the United States each year.
I reviewed the documentary for Screen Daily. Here is an excerpt.
“A dead man found in the Arizona desert becomes a potent symbol for the 2,000 missing persons found along this area of the U.S. border in the last decade. While ‘Who Is Dayani Crystal?’ doesn’t necessarily expose any new facts about the plight of immigrants, the film effectively humanises the thousands of individuals attempting to make a better life for themselves in the US—and the hundreds that die trying each year. As producer-actor Gael Garcia Bernal puts it in the film, “This is the wager: Can you make it past Mexico with your family’s future in your pocket?”
“Bernal plays a dual function in Who Is Dayani Crystal?, both as narrator, and as a stand-in for the unidentified man, tracing his journey from Honduras to Arizona. The film interweaves Bernal’s restaged trip with testimony from Arizona-based pathologists, missing persons’ experts, and Mexican and Honduran officials, as well as interviews with friends and family of the man who was only known by the calligraphy tattoo scrawled across his chest, reading “Dayani Crystal.”
“But by constructing the film in this manner, Silver gives up the secret identity of its central figure early on. Of course, the Hondurans speaking about their husband and son are the mystery’s man’s family. Who Is Dayani Crystal?, then, is less successful as a nonfiction mystery, and more convincing as an intimate case study.”