Daniel & Ana
Directed by Michel Franco
There are few phrases more dubious when attached to a movie than “based on real events.” Equally lean odds and explanations apply to narratives that involve taboos. Yet somehow, Daniel y Ana, the expertly executed first feature-length effort by Michel Franco, avoids all potential pitfalls and proves to be a quietly potent 90 minutes.
Siblings Daniel (Dario Yazbek Bernal) and Ana Torres (Marimar Vega) live in Mexico City, but exist solely within the bubble that wealth provides—he goes to a high school where everyone is white and has their own sports car by 15; she is preparing for a lavish wedding to her international businessman beau. The bubble bursts when, on a routine errand, the pair are kidnapped by a crew of armed men and given the option of being raped and killed or having sex with each other on tape. They choose the latter and return home to carry on with their lives, never divulging to their parents or significant others why they’ve suddenly become so withdrawn and self-destructive.
With its long takes of elegantly composed frames and plaintive natural lighting reminiscent of late 70s Hollywood, the overall experience of Daniel & Ana is a kind of stagey verité that avoids sentimentality. Brother and sister drift from one quotidian vignette to the next, the gaping spaces left by their silence becoming increasingly oppressive. While some viewers may find this lack of editorialized emotion closes off connection to the characters, the more terrifying option—and the only one you’re really left with—is to project yourself into their situation. Franco also eschews any clearly defined rising action, making the eventual shocking repercussions of their trauma even more gutting. Whatever you thought they might’ve been thinking, it’s probably wrong. How could you know? Why would you want to?
The film’s postscript similarly reveals the depths of humanity’s truculence, explaining that this type of kidnapping/forced sex pornography occurs frequently in Mexico City, but because it goes largely unreported, it’s difficult to prosecute. Daniel & Ana may seem like a terrible choice for a first date, but if you’re brave enough, the post-cinematic discussion will assuredly be more revealing of character than any online compatibility test.
Opens August 27