The subject of this moving piece of cinema is an anonymous body discovered in the Arizona desert. The corpse, much like so many others, is initially unidentifiable, and emblematic of this desperation from so many people seeking a more prosperous life in the United States, but sadly struggling to make it that far. Silver therefore uses his random subject to explore the world of illegal immigration, and attempt to discover exactly who this man was – using the words “Dayani Cristal, which are tattooed across the man’s torso, as the means to spark his investigation.
While this remains an intimate, emotional study of this one man’s life, he is merely representative of a much broader issue, and effectively, this film could be focusing on any of the thousands of missing immigrants that attempt to make it across the US border. But it isn’t – it’s personal to this one, mysterious man, humanising somebody that is otherwise just a mere statistic. To see people mourning over him makes it seem much more real, exploring the individual within, recognising this man’s dreams and aspirations. To many he’s just a number written down, but to others he’s a friend, a father and a husband.
Silver skilfully – and seamlessly – moves between dramatic reconstructions of the man’s final few days, and real life footage and interviews, bringing the story to life. Gael García Bernal plays the role of this stranger wonderfully, and for somebody so charismatic, he manages to blend into the crowd and seem so normal, as he pensively travels from his home in Honduras. There’s a serenity to these sequences, as the cinematography is striking, with the sun baked desert making up much of the background, making for an idyllic, tranquil ambiance. Yet there’s a foreboding element prevalent too, and a sadness born out of the fact we know how tragically this ends, feeling almost like the green mile; that final walk that feels like a lifetime, and yet happens so fast. Silver enhances this notion intelligently with the juxtaposition between the reconstructions and the harsh reality of the situation, as we meet those whose job it is to handle the array of dead bodies.
Who is Dayani Cristal? marks an accomplished sophomore feature film for Silver that is sure to upset and compel in equal measure. Yet in a strange way there’s almost something comforting to take away from this disquieting, bleak piece of cinema, similarly to how Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life managed. Because this anonymous body was just that – anonymous. Yet this feature has given this man exposure, a chance for his story to be told. It may be tragically posthumous, but people will know his name now. It was Dilcy Yohan Sandres-Martinez.