Rulfo’s documentary about Mexican construction workers is simple and often touching, although it lacks a certain contextual framework to give it much in the way of greater meaning. It’s not until the final shot, a breathtaking single take lasting several minutes, that we truly understand the scope of the massive Mexico City bridge being built by Rulfo’s subjects. As his helicopter-mounted camera makes its way across the seemingly never-ending expanse of finished and unfinished road that makes up the bridge, we can finally see what an enormous, life-changing project it really is. Until then, though, it’s just a collection of girders and rods and cement.
Although maybe that’s part of the point, too. For Rulfo’s subjects, poor laborers building a road largely for the use of those richer than they are, the big picture is pretty much irrelevant. They are completely focused on the basic, repetitive tasks at hand, some taking pride in their work while others view it merely as a necessary evil. In avoiding any consideration of larger ramifications, Rulfo is able to draw us into the lives of the handful of subjects he portrays at length, including an affable man whose sunny exterior hides a criminal past of robbery, drug dealing and beating his wife, which he describes with the same wry detachment he uses to talk about hammers.
Rulfo does have a few of his subjects address politics in a vague, general way, but he doesn’t make any direct comment on Mexico’s class system or the circumstances that have led people to take these dangerous, low-paying jobs. Instead he follows one subject to a rural horse-racing competition and allows another to invite the camera into his home, and generally treats them as real people rather than tools for making statements.
That also means that the already short feature ends up with plenty of padding in the form of long, ponderous shots of Mexico City traffic, which eventually get a bit repetitive. What’s in between them, though, is quietly insightful. –Josh Bell
Directed by Juan Carlos Rulfo