REVIEW: DVD Release: In The Pit

Film: In The Pit
Release date: 21st June 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 85 mins
Director: Juan Carlos Rulfo
Starring: Salvador Enriquez Castillo, Alejandro Moten, Vicencio Martínez Vázquez
Genre: Documentary
Studio: Network
Format: DVD
Country: Mexico

The construction of a road bridge in South America may seem an unlikely topic for a documentary about human interest, but in 2007’s In The Pit, director Juan Carlos Rulfo does exactly that. Rulfo’s film focuses on the colourful workers of Mexico City’s “Second Deck” road bridge, and attempts to extract the drama from the dirt and rubble.

In 2003 work began in Mexico City to build a massive road bridge to relieve the terrible traffic congestion on the roads. The Second Deck was to be the longest bridge in the history of the city.

In The Pit interviews a selection of the construction workers responsible for digging the foundations, fitting the steel girders, and laying the concrete. It is the story of the men who built her, from the bottom up…

Although the film is rooted firmly in the heart of Mexico City, and covers a cross-section of Mexican culture, this isn’t a Mexican story; rather it’s a working man’s story. Anyone who’s ever found themselves trapped in a working environment they resent will be on instant familiar ground with the moans and strife of the Second Deck workers. They refer to it often as “a living hell” – an everyday purgatory to which they have been sent for some sin, real or imagined. In the case of the frightening ‘El Grande’, he relates genially how he lost his temper with his wife and bloodied her lip – and worse. He boasts openly about his Mafia past, and it’s implied that in his current employ he’s paying for previous sins, yet maddeningly the details of how he came to be working on the construction site remain elusive. You get the feeling that Rulfo, rather than wishing to make an intrusive documentary, is more interested in simply pointing the camera and relating events as they unfold. It certainly makes for an organic experience, but – as in the case of ‘El Grande’ – the result is that many questions about the men’s lives are left unanswered.

‘El Grande’ proves to be a pretty unpleasant character, and yet the villain of the piece is definitely not him. As the bridge slowly grows and develops from sub-terraferma pits into towering, shadow-casting obelisks, it becomes a domineering leviathan - a monster of modern engineering. The larger it becomes, the more the little men of its construction are dwarfed, becoming inconsequential. The harder they work, the more it grows, claiming their time, their health, and even their lives. Night-worker Natividad Sántez Montes’s premonitions become increasingly more ominous as the huge construction looms over her, at one point proclaiming: “In each of these main columns, someone’s soul must be laid to rest in order to hold up the bridge. Gotta hunch it could have happened to me.”

Hiding amongst the storytelling, the lewd revelry, the ogling of passing women and the crude bonhomie between the workers are some extraordinary poignant nuggets of philosophy. Whilst on his way to deliver an enormous piece of the bridge to the construction site, driver Agustin bemoans the inefficiencies of his politicians, and the way everyone essentially is just looking out for themselves. The only hope for the future, he declares, is in how the parents of Mexico communicate with their children.

Ever present is the feeling of the chiasmic gulf between the workers and the faceless powers-that-be, who have masterminded the development. The suits at the top of the pile surely see this construction as the way forward in a brave new Mexico city, and we’re left to wonder what thought – if any – they give to the everyday hell their workers endure. In this respect, it’s a completely one-sided tale, but maybe that’s as it should be. Rulfo isn’t preaching; he isn’t pointing out rights and wrongs, more he wants to immerse you in the lives of these men, stuck like so many others in a situation they didn’t choose and getting through it one day at a time.

In the film’s awe-inspiring final shot: a helicopter’s-eye-view of the finished bridge winding its way snake-like through the city, we get some sense of the infinite number of stories behind each of the tiny waving dots of the workers. It’s to Rulfo’s credit, therefore, that he’s managed to construct a coherent, meaningful film out of such a wealth of material - a well-paced story which allows its characters chance to breath and grow, and for us to become slowly immersed in the sweat and grime that is a daily reality for the workers of The Second Deck. It’s stylishly shot, if unfussy. Rulfo’s camera captures the storytellers in an intimate, no-nonsense fashion, but then in the next shot finds moments of beauty and poetry amongst the rubble and concrete. Kudos must also go to the extraordinary soundtrack; a mishmash of industrial noise and electronica, itself as much of a construction as the subject of the film.

In The Pit is a curious insight into the lives of the men and women who everyday broke their backs – and in some cases gave their lives - to build the colossal Second Deck bridge. It draws few conclusions other than life on a building site is hell (wherever you are in the world), and that there are moments of human beauty to be found in the most miserable surroundings. LB

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