Friday, August 27, 2010

Sibling sex: DANIEL & ANA from Michel Franco, makes NYC debut at Quad Cinema


Breaking a taboo is one thing. Being forced to break it -- at gunpoint with your and your family's lives threatened --  is quite another, the result of which we see played out in DANIEL & ANA, the Cannes' Directors Fortnight selection now making its theatrical debut. Written and directed by Michel Franco (shown below: a Mexican movie-maker whose first full-length film this is) this short work (only 90 minutes including rather lengthy end credits) is disturbing, all right. How could it not be, given the central event, which is, we are told, based on a true story in which only the names have been changed?

Mexico, certainly one of the kidnap capitals of the world, plays host to this story and its lead characters: the contented and close-knit brother and sister of the title.  Daniel's a high school student, on the cusp of young manhood, while Ana is several years older and about to be married.  Their family is part of Mexico's haute bourgeiosie -- those "haves" who have the most -- and Ana is about to marry into more of the same. Señor Franco lays all this out non-judgmentally. In fact, the siblings' kidnappers, shown below, don't look too shabby, either, and so the rather enormous "class differences" we often see and hear about in Mexico are certainly not being hammered home in undue fashion. What happens here is all just "business," dontcha know.

TrustMovies apologizes for giving away more of the plot than he usually profers. All of the above, in any case, is on view within the first 20 minutes. And while the signal event of the film is certainly vital, how the characters react to it -- and why -- is key to our coming to terms with the movie. It's here that Franco stumbles rather severely.

The filmmaker allows us to watch the entire sex scene, which is handled about as chastely as possible, considering the nature of the "crime."  (Perhaps a little too chastely, where our pivotal view of Daniel is concerned.)   You won't accuse Franco of pandering, necessarily, but then you wait -- post-sex, and then post-release of the victims -- for that all-important scene of their pair's first connection/conversation after the fact.  It never happens.  So very much would spring from the way in which the older of the two handles (or is unable to handle) her younger brother in this terribly fraught time that the audience deserves to be a part of this. But Franco, being I guess a very untutored filmmaker, doesn't bother with this pivotal scene at all.

Sure, we see later reactions -- from the siblings, her fiancé, his girlfriend, their parents -- but everything from here on in, even a surprise or two, seems a little too rote because the most important moments in the movie have been left out. (Even if no communication happened immediately post-release, we need to see that in order to better understand.)

The performances are as good as the script and direction allow. Marimar Vega (shown above, with Chema Torre, who plays her soon-to-be husband) exhibits poise and the necessary maturity to handle not only the event itself, but its terrible follow-up, while Darío Yazbek Bernal (shown below, who is Gabriel Garcia's half-brother), bearing more than a passing resemblance to a younger James Franco, is a basket case of depession and fear as the younger participant who cannot get out from under his guilt. (Does he realize that what happened might be, on some level, exactly what he wanted?)

There are other problems with the film. The music, with its beautiful, dirge-like score, begins to be quite unhelpful -- used, as it is, in place of more fitting dialog or better visuals in order to up the movie's sadness quotient. Someone must have realized that this was not working properly, however, because after the first few uses, music pretty much disappears for the remainder of the film.

I can't write off the movie completely, though. There is enough strength in the situation and performances to make it worth the time of anyone who has in any way been connected to this vile experience or who is concerned with the sale of forced pornography (the end title cards give some information on this), or for therapists who may end up treating those who've been involved in this kind of situation.

Daniel & Ana, from Strand Releasing, opens Friday, August 27, at New York City's Quad Cinema.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd like to thank you for your review. It was insightful.

James van Maanen, said...

Thank you, Anonymous--
If I had this to do over again, I would give this post another title. DANIEL Y ANA has become my most-read post ever -- but I suspect, alas, for reasons other than the quality of its ideas or writing. If you want to have your blog discovered (but then, most probably, disappointed in), choose a highly sexual, transgressive title for your post!

Cory said...

A very good review. I also think you hit it on the head on what was missing from the movie. It would have been nice to see some interaction between Ana and Daniel immediately after their release from captivity.

I'm not crazy about how the movie goes at the end but I can understand it to a certain degree after reading lots of comments and reviews.

Someone could probably do a series of follow-ups on how screwed up both characters still are at the end of the film.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Cory. Glad you felt that way, too. (And DANIEL & ANA, by the way, still gets -- over 16 months AFTER its initial posting -- the largest number of hits on my blog. except for, occasionally, 3SOME -- which is a better movie, and one that I highly recommend.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the review.

I already watch this movie,the story was good, but it's kind of a little disappointing in the ending, because i thought the siblings could recover their relationship after the kidnapping.

But still, it was a great film, Dario and Vega act their roles perfectly, And Franco did a good job as a first-time movie
director.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Anon. I think you are disappointed in the ending due to what didn't occur earlier in the film: the just-after-the-incident connection between brother and sister -- whatever it was -- that the director left out. I, too, would have thought that the two might have been able to reconnect. But not as the filmmaker has chosen to tell his story here.