Sunday, 28 April 2013

WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICK

Who is Dayani Cristal? (2013) ****
Dir. Mark Silver
Starring and Produced By: Gael Garcia Bernal

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I really don't get why America has always been so precious about its border with Mexico. Purportedly, the big reason is to make sure that "furriners" don't steal jobs from good, hardworking Americans. This, of course, is a big joke. No matter how poor they are, the vast majority of unemployed America's potential work force refuse to do the jobs illegal migrant workers south of Mexico's border are willing to do. In fact, a big part of America's economy would be deeper in the crapper than it already is without the underground workforce. Those who refuse to admit it are either lying or ignorant.

And yet, year after year, decade upon decade, America has waged war against virtually incalculable numbers of people who try to cross their borders - not to steal, not to make trouble, not to be a drain on the system - but to work. America is good at waging war. It's what keeps the rich getting richer and the poor to get poorer. It's how the rich dumb down its population. Even worse, it's how the rich cull the population while at the same time exploiting other countries for financial gain. Perhaps America's power brokers are hoping that the dwindling middle class in America will get so desperate that they'll be the ones to take all the jobs Americans (at least for now) refuse to take.

Whatever the reasons - and you can bet the official reasons are spurious as all get out - thousands upon thousands of "illegals" are captured, incarcerated and deported with untold millions of dollars spent on enforcing this perverse form of protectionism which is both racist and ultimately, ineffective. They keep coming. They're poor, they have no work and America has plenty for them to do.

An alarming number of these "illegals" die. Some are robbed and beaten to death. Most drop dead of thirst and hunger in the vast desert wilderness between the Mexican border and civilization.

Who is Dayani Cristal? is about the dead and I have to admit, this is conceivably one of the saddest and most infuriating films I've ever seen. (Curiously, one other cinematic wrist-slasher, Liz Marshall's The Ghosts in Our Machine, also appears at this year's Hot Docs Film Festival).

Working with fine writing by Mark Monroe, filmmaker Mark Silver's stunning, harrowing and genuinely great film is a superbly directed feature documentary that gives us a tale of one such "illegal" found rotting in the blazing sun of the deadly Sonora Desert in Friendly Arizona - a state where many of the (mostly unemployed) American White Trash are the first to complain about migrant workers stealing jobs that they themselves wouldn't even begin to think of taking.

The dead man has no I.D. He is a "John Doe". His body will remain on ice until a dogged American forensic team exhausts every possible avenue to match a name with the body based upon any clues they can find. The doctor and his team who do this work display the sort of compassion that makes one, thankfully, realize just how wonderful the American people are and can be - that many are sick and tired of the horrendous totalitarian policies of the rich - and that if there was eventually some way to break the horrendous attempts to dumb-down most of the country's population that maybe, just maybe, there will be a possibility of returning the country to the principles of the founding fathers.

Until then, "illegals" are treated worse than cattle sent to the slaughterhouse.

The film follows two roads. One involves the attempts to identify the man's body - he has one arcane clue - a tattoo that reads "Dayani Cristal". If the teams can - somehow - find out who or what "Dayani Cristal" is, then they might be that much closer to putting a name to the body and returning it to his family.

The other path involves star and Producer, the dreamy heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal who takes to the open road - travelling with other migrants from Honduras through Guatemala, Mexico and Arizons - hitting the likeliest route, places and activities the dead man would have. These sequences are a brilliant hybrid of drama and documentary that seem less "recreation" or "dramatization", but a genuine journey. The sequences include some of the most hair-raising sequences on moving boxcars I've ever seen, and unless I'm blind, it does not appear as Bernal is using a stunt double.

Though we feel we know what the answer to the mystery will be, it is impossible to be less than enthralled with both the journeys taken by the forensic team and Bernal. It's the roads taken by both that supply us with the reality that faces destitute foreign migrant workers every single day.

And though it IS a film that makes us sad and infuriated, we're strangely elated by the touches of humanity along the way.

The work of politicians and their bureaucratic minions on behalf of the rich are faceless, but it's the faces and spirit of those who struggle on that ultimately move us. That said, there is a sense that the real free and brave of America are those without freedom and whose only real wealth is their bravery.

This is highly polished filmmaking at every level, but it's also indicative of what is still important and truthful about great cinema. And, for that matter, America.

"Who is Dayani Cristal?" is playing at the 2013 Hot Docs Film Festival. For showtimes and ticket information, please visit the festival website HERE.