The man’s body had already turned a burnished mahogany when US border guards found it in the Arizona desert. He was just one more unknown illegal adding to the thousands who have died trying to enter the US without papers. But a tattoo on his chest with the words ‘Dayani Cristal’ gave investigators a clue to his identity. This doc attempts to put a human face on the statistics, not only following the grisly day-to-day of American officials dealing with the bodies, but also exploring the dead man’s rural Honduran background.
In a third strand, the actor Gael García Bernal retraces his footsteps on the doomed journey north by bus, train and on foot. It’s this section that’s problematic. Bernal’s conversations with fellow travellers are certainly instructive, but his movie star presence is a distraction from the reality of the fate-tossed lives the film does so much to humanise. Overall, this is an eye-opener, but do we really need a famous actor involved before we start to care?