When I spoke to Ochoa and Benski by phone from Sundance two days after the film's premiere, they emphasized that their aim was to make a film that wasn't told from a Western perspective, but rather one that embedded the audience in the experience of the Yohan's life. The film, they told me, was an attempt to move away from the often emotionally and politically-charged rhetoric surrounding immigration and focus on one man's personal tragedy. Watching the film, the passion that Bernal and the other filmmakers feel about this subject is palpable.
But ultimately, "Dayani Cristal" is about too many things at once: in presenting a multiplicity of angles both on the story of Yohan himself and the larger problems of migration in general, it diffuses itself to the point of becoming muddled. Is this a film about one man who loved his family deeply and risked a journey to improve their lot that would lead to his death? Is it a film about Gael Garcia Bernal's experience following in that man's footsteps? Or is it a film about the efforts of those well-intentioned American officials and their counterparts in the governments of nations across the Americas to identify the men and women who die trying to make their way to the U.S.?
These questions are part of a mystery that "Who Is Dayani Cristal?" does not solve. When the film's eponymous question is finally answered, the revelation doesn't quite hit as hard as was probably intended. In the end, that's probably because it wasn't really the central question of the film in the first place.