Daniel and Ana is a movie that aims to shock, and shock it does. It shocks subtly and artfully, with impeccable grace and talent, but at the end it seems that all it ever intended to do was disturb the sensibilities of the viewer.
The eponymous brother and sister Daniel and Ana (Dario Yazbek Bernal and Marimar Vega) are a happy pair of kids in a wealthy Mexican family, who are interested only in the things that well off kids the world over are. Daniel, not yet fifteen, is yearning for a new car that he can show off to his friends. Ana, several years older, is busy planning her wedding and canoodling with her fiancé Rafa (Josemaria Torre-Hutt).
And then, there's the kidnapping. Daniel is driving Ana on some wedding related errand, they stop for a moment to find their way, and two men jump into the car with guns. The men know their names. They blindfold them, stuff them in the trunk and drive them to a nondescript house miles away. But this isn't your normal kidnap for ransom. Once at the house, the kidnappers herd Daniel and Ana into a sparsely furnished bedroom, and force them at gunpoint and the threat of violent death to... Well, they force them to do things that brothers and sisters ought not to do, and generally don't, and they videotape everything. Soon after, the siblings are blindfolded again, and released in their own car near where they were first taken.
Obviously, this hits the two hard. They withdraw from the world, much to the puzzlement of their parents and friends, to whom they say nothing of the incident. They barely speak to each other or anyone else. They hardly eat. Daniel doesn't react at all when his parents buy him a new car as a surprise. He starts to ditch school. Ana breaks off her engagement and tells Rafa to accept the job in Spain that he's been offered. Their lives essentially crumble. But Ana is determined to heal, and goes to a psychologist (under a false name) and begins the process of rebuilding. Daniel does no such thing, merely stagnates and obsesses.
This is not the end of horribleness for the pair, however. Ana vacillates between marrying Rafa and not, though he never wavers in his love for her, and she finally decides that they will marry. Daniel is not happy about this, or it seems about his sister's budding return to happiness itself. He enters a dark place, and does some very awful things before the film is over. And that's about it as far as dramatic arcs go. Ana recovers and Daniel doesn't. The film claims at the outset that it is based on true events, with only names changed, but one wonders how the producers ever found out about it, if the two most concerned never tell. Regardless, being based on reality is no excuse for dramatic flatness. It seems that Daniel's turn to wickedness is supposed to be quite important, but it happens late, after much doleful staring into space on his and Ana's part, limiting the impact. And the worst thing he does happens first, is indeed our first indication that he has moved from victim to perpetrator. After that, he only almost does bad things. Plans them out but fails to execute at the last minute. This is exactly the reverse of what ought to happen in terms of story and character development. The only truly impactful moments are the scenes of graphic sexual assault, shown in full though with a feeling of clinical detachment.
This is not to say that Daniel and Ana is not expertly made. It is, in nearly every respect outside of the story. The performances are all subtle and genuine. We believe Daniel and Ana's relationship as siblings before the kidnapping, and we believe their strained and brittle relationship after. The film is also beautifully shot, and the seldom in film seen upper class of Mexican society is portrayed with a realistic honesty. So, what's the point to all this? So much art is expended for the sake of a story that's two most important scenes would be more at home in an exploitation film, not the high art that this film aspires to. Despite all its obvious quality and the talent of the filmmakers, Daniel and Ana fails to induce much strong emotion outside of disgust and shock. That is simply not enough for a truly great film. Rent this one.
The image is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and generally looks quite good. The colors are muted, in keeping with the dark subject matter. However, this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
The audio is in Dolby 2 channel, and does fine. No hiss or other issues are present, and the dialogue is audible, though this is not an issue as English subtitles are included for non Spanish speakers. The subtitles cannot be turned off, and no alternate language track is included. However, this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
Trailers are included for Daniel and Ana, Spring Fever, Hideaway, John Rabe and Happiness Runs, but that is it as far as extras. However, this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality or quantity of extras on the final product.
Daniel and Ana is expert filmmaking, excepting only that the dramatic elements are anemic. Two very shocking scenes of sexual assault are included, and while these punch the viewer in the gut, they don't really do much more. We are left wondering what the point of it all is. This is not the mark of an exceptional film. More is needed, and sadly is not provided.