By Don Simpson | August 27, 2010
Director: Michel Franco
Writer: Michel Franco
Starring: Dario Yazbek Bernal, Marimar Vega, Chema Torre
Allow me to begin by stating that one of the greatest traits of Daniel & Ana is its ability to shock an unsuspecting viewer. I will attempt to keep the following review as ambiguous as I can, but Michel Franco’s debut feature functions most effectively if the viewer does not know anything about the plot. But, before you stop reading, please be forewarned that Daniel & Ana is an emotionally tragic tale, one that cinema-goers might not care to willingly digest. It’s not quite as violent as Irreversible, but promises to be equally psychologically challenging for the audience. But like Irreversible, the strength of Daniel & Ana is the before and after specifically the cinematic tone and the actors’ performances. OK, now that you have been forewarned you can either scurry off to the nearest art house cinema or you can continue reading at your own risk…
When we are first introduced to Ana (Marimar Vega) and Daniel Torres (Dario Yazbek Bernal) they are two loving siblings from an affluent Mexico City family still living under their parents’ roof. The elder of the two siblings, Ana is three months away from marrying Rafael (Jose Maria Torre) when her fianc? is offered a job in Spain. Family comes first and foremost for Ana, so she has absolutely no intentions of leaving Mexico City; Rafael loves Ana, so he opts to forgo the fantastic career opportunity in order to stay in Mexico City with her. Nonetheless, Ana feels tremendous pressure from the wedding planning and her fiancs recent career sacrifice. Daniel is under a different kind of pressure…that being hormonal. Sixteen-years old, Daniel and his Bob Dylan quaff has sexual urges that have yet to be fulfilled by his girlfriend; he also wants his own car. Ana and Daniel’s troubles are not extraordinary and one would expect that their family’s wealth alone will probably soften most of their stresses and heartaches.
Things change quite drastically and dramatically for Ana and Daniel when they are kidnapped at gunpoint by thugs who know their names and where they live. These kidnappers do not want a ransom, they have significantly more morally shattering plans for the siblings. In order to save themselves, Ana and Daniel must first put the boundaries of their sibling love to the test and be videotaped doing the unthinkable and unspeakable. Of course they do it, it seems they have no other options, and the event is equally traumatic and life-changing for each of them. There is no turning back. Ana and Daniel will never be able to return to their past lives especially relationships and their sibling closeness will never be the same.
If you have been able to guess what the unthinkable and unspeakable event is admittedly I did not hide it very well you’ll understand just how difficult this film will be for some viewers. Dario Yazbek Bernal (younger brother of Gael Garcia Bernal) brilliantly holds his cards close to his chest, never allowing the viewer to know what to expect next from him; and in terms of realism, it definitely helps that a 16-year old actor was cast to play a 16-year old character. We never know what he is thinking, though we can see his inner-sadness gushing from his eyes. Balancing sexiness and emotional ambiguity, Marimar Vega’s Ana is an incredibly strong and intelligent woman; and though at times she plays Ana like a character from a soap opera, the character remains relatively believable.
My biggest beef with Daniel & Ana concerns the editing and structure. Many of the scenes are cut too short and I found the plethora of fade-to-blacks between scenes to be very distracting. Because of these structural choices, the narrative lacks continuity; it plays as a fractured collection of all-too-brief scenes. The effect is practically Brechtian, a constant reminder that we are watching an edited film thus creating a separation between the viewer and the narrative. This is most confusing to me because the structural choices play in opposition to Franco’s obvious attempts at cinematic realism notably the hand-held cinematography and natural lighting.
According to Franco, Ana and Daniel’s tale is based on a true story (the opening titles of Daniel & Ana make the impossibly grandiose proclamation: ?he movie tells the story exactly as it happened, only the names were changed, one told to him by the psychologist who treated the real-life siblings. In fact, kidnappings like this one purportedly occur quite often in Mexico though the Mexican authorities have not done anything to stop this activity. It is the ?erfectcrime because the victims rarely come away with any tangible evidence (only severe lifelong psychological trauma) and they often prefer not to press charges.