A horrible kidnapping shatters the lives of a brother and sister in austere, controlled Mexican drama.

A horrible kidnapping shatters the lives of a brother and sister in austere, controlled Mexican drama “Daniel & Ana,” the feature debut for Mexican shorts and commercials helmer Michel Franco. Adopting a show-don’t-tell approach to narrative, the screenplay leaves it to the audience to map the psychological terrain, which will frustrate some but thrill others who prefer oblique storytelling. Nevertheless, without full critical support, the pic will struggle to expand beyond the fest circuit, though the presence in the title role of Dario Yazbek Bernal, brother of thesp Gael Garcia Bernal, could pique buyer and aud interest.

Attractive, outgoing college girl Ana Torres (Marimar Vega), the daughter of a wealthy, closeknit Mexico City family, is planning to get married to stolid Rafael (Jose Maria Torre) in three months. While Ana is out shopping with her shy but good-natured 16-year-old brother Daniel (Dario Yazbek Bernal), the two of them are kidnapped by a gang. The sequence proves striking: It unfolds quietly, with no shouting or fuss, creating maximal realism but dread all the same.

The kidnappers are not after money. Instead, they force Ana and Daniel to have sex on camera, threatening to kill them if they don’t comply. If that seems farfetched, the opening subtitles assert the entire narrative is based on a true story. Meanwhile, concluding subtitles explain there’s a known subculture of pornography made under such coercive conditions.

The kidnapping happens just 20 minutes into the film. Remainder of the pic’s running time is concerned with the aftermath, as each sibling deals with the trauma in a very different way.

Telling no one about what happened, not even their parents, until Ana finally goes to see a shrink, both withdraw from human contact. Daniel, who’s actually the more disturbed of the two, can seemingly hide behind people’s assumptions that he’s just being a surly teenager.

Last act introduces a real shocker, after which tension ratchets right up, based on expectations that anything could happen given the unpredictability of human nature. The suspense is all the greater since helmer Franco avoids any dramatic, nonsource music, and in collaboration with lenser Chuy Chavez (“Chuck and Buck,” “Me and You and Everyone We Know”), keeps the camera at a cool distance from the thesps most of the time.

Leads Vega and Bernal hold up their end impressively, enhancing the pic’s naturalism with muted, naturalistic perfs that hinge of the subtlest of changes of expression. Both ought to experience major career boosts.

Rest of the tech package is good, on par for the low-budget course.

Daniel & Ana

Mexico

Production

An Alameda Films presentation, in association with Fidecine, Labofilms, Labodigital, Pop Films, Strawberry Films, Blufilms, Morena Films. (International sales: Fortissimo Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Daniel Birman Ripstein. Co-producers, Michel Franco, Enrique Aagon, Adolfo Alagon, Guillermo Alagon, Alvaro Longoria. Directed, written by Michel Franco.

Crew

Camera (color), Chuy Chavez; editor, Oscar Figueroa; production designer, Martha Papadimitriou; costume designer, Josefina Echeverria; sound (Dolby Digital), Santiago Nunez, Carlos Aguliar. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 18, 2009. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Dario Yazbek Bernal, Marimar Vega, Chema Torre, Jose Maria Torre, Montserrat Ontiveros, Luis Miguel Lombana.

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