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Daniel y Ana Film review from San Sebastian

Both Michel Franco and lead actor Darío Yazbek are here in San Sebastian to promote Daniel y Ana, the young Mexican director´s first full-length feature.

The film tells the (true) story of two siblings in an upper class Mexican family that are captured by pornographers and forced to have sex with one another on tape. The director seeks to tell the story of what happens to the relationship between the two after this ordeal and how it comes to shape the way that each one deals with his life.

"El mejor cine--asegura--es el que se parece la vida misma y el que da pie para hablar y discutir a la salida, y eso es lo que quiero que suceda con mi película."

"The best cinema--I assure you--is that which seems to be real life and that which gives a reason to speak and discuss as you leave, and this is what I want to happen with my film.

Too many movies start with some sort of disclaimer that essentially says—in so many words or in others: “this film was based on real life.” The key word here is “based,” for no matter how many details the writer gets just so, the film is still a work of fiction, and the actual story as it may or may not have progressed would have been far less a perfect example of the narrative cycle than the film with far more untied loose ends.

Which is why when Daniel y Ana opened with a similar text, I took pause: this film claimed to be completely true, the events as they happened, with only the names of the characters changed to protect their innocence. What follows is then especially moving as you retain this idea in the back of your head: as we witness two siblings, a sister about to be married and a brother just barely discovering himself and his sexuality as he trains for a marathon and dates his first high school girlfriend. The opening scenes seem to be the perfect picture of normalcy, and, in the same way as he opening scene of Blue Velvet does, we are acutely aware of the fact that this normalcy cannot last forever.

One stroke of chanced bad luck, and the siblings are captured by men who produce incestuous pornography. The most horrific is how scarily un-Hollywood-esque the captors are: they do not scream or beat the siblings. There is no blood, no close-up of a gun: in fact, the entire scene is filmed in a long shot from across the room, as though a documentary. There is no pleading or hysterical crying: just awkward silence as the siblings stare at their feet and obey their captors as though marionettes, the boy’s face a stoic picture of numbness and the girl’s covered by slow, soft tears, the exact way, you realize as you watch, you would react in the same situation.

“Fuck him,” the sister is told again and again by her captor, until she finally undresses her brother and herself and cries as the young teenager loses his virginity to his older sister. We watch this intimate moment as the captors film it, watching as the sister is told to help her brother when he doesn’t know what to do, watching as they awkwardly dress side by side when it is over.

The rest of the film is a study of coping mechanisms, of what to do when normal ends. Both siblings regress into a state of near hibernation, sleeping all day, taking refuge in being alone where they will not be hounded by parents or significant others.

What happens next is a very interesting study of human development, of how the crazy psycho-killer comes to be: the sister goes almost immediately to a psychologist and begins to come to terms with what has happened, trying to get her old life back. The brother, however, takes a turn for the worse: going crazy in the same understated way that the film has addressed the rest of the problem. He buys a knife in order to kill his sister’s fiancé, but changes his mind and merely masturbates into a drink he offers him instead. He searches obsessively online for the video of the act they have committed. He sneaks into his sister’s room at night and rapes her quickly and savagely before retreating like a frightened animal. He starts to choke his girlfriend as they kiss and abruptly ups and leaves.

This is not the crazed lunatic from Hollywood movies who keeps us up at night, hoping that the windows are securely locked: this is a poor boy who frightens us with his savage disregard for everything that is normal and right and yet who we pity, who cannot deal with all the emotions he is feeling and therefore channels his anger into something else.

The film ends as it must, without much closure: the true siblings never learned what happened to the video, and so neither will we. The sister moves to Spain with her new husband, the brother is threatened with psychoanalysis by his parents. The close relationship that the two shared at the beginning has been destroyed, they hug awkwardly for what we know must be the first of many awkward hugs that they will share, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

Another text is displayed at the end of the film, a sort of public service announcement that informs us of the frequency of these situations in Mexico and the impossibility of stopping it due to people avoiding turning themselves in. The message printed in black and white meant nothing to me: I still had the image of the confused boy’s face engraved in my mind as he watched his sister dance with her husband and sunk even further into his own unsettled life.

-Emily Monaco

Fifth Row, Left Side :
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