I'm from Mexico City and lived in the U.S. for a total of more than 24 years. Now I'm back in Mexico. I realized I was seeing my country through the eyes of a native stranger. This is an attempt to process the differences, to explain Mexico to the U.S. and the U.S. to Mexico. With digressions along the way.

domingo, abril 09, 2006

En el hoyo

I saw a documentary last night that is well worth mentioning, En el hoyo (In the Pit), by Juan Carlos Rulfo. It is a portrait of the workers who are constructing the second floor of a freeway in Mexico City called the "periférico." The project was initiated by the mayor of Mexico City, whom I've mentioned in this blog in the past, López Obrador. Usually you hear about the annoyance the construction has caused...it's one of the most used freeways in Mexico City (along with the Viaducto), and motorists were sick and tired of the delays it caused in the already congested traffic. Driving underneath it, though really not knowing much about engineering, it struck me that the design was terrible...in order to ensure it won't fall with earthquakes they've made it a huge, hulking structure. I'm sure there were better designs possible. Perhaps it was important to make it seem sturdy?

The construction of the second floor has been criticized by many. It apparently involves corruption, waste of money, and all the usual stuff of politics. López Obrador was so insistent on finishing it quickly (since he wants to be President) that he has people working 24 hours a day. This film doesn't directly mention most of these things (and in fact some of its funding comes from the city government). What this film shows are the incredibly unsafe working conditions, the lack of gear and tools, the low payment and long hours of the workers, and yet their dependency on the contruction to put food on the table. It also shows the incredible spirit and wit of mexicans, along with the usual cultural idiosyncracies. This is not a "voice of god" narration type documentary. It presents few direct facts or investigation. It is instead an observational documentary with a very generous budget. The words in the film are those of the workers. The cinematography is excellent. The score is one of the best scores I've heard for any movie. It perhaps is a bit too long, but then again, so is the building of the second floor, the periférico itself, the work hours of the protagonists.

It is unfortunate that the subtitles, particularly at the beginning of the film, are not well-translated. A lot of the wit and humor and double-entendre of the workers is lost. You also miss certain references, such as the workers calling the filmmaker "güero" (blond) and their particular way of addressing him ("usted" instead of the informal "tú")--indication of the difference in social status between them. Perhaps despite this for an English-speaking audience, you get the sense that the workers really come to trust and like the filmmakers. Though there is a bit of distance and respect, and the usual posing and acting for the camera, there is also a genuine unguardedness and desire to collaborate with the filmmakers. I highly recommend watching this documentary if you're able--with luck it will get some decent distribution.