A Bridge Not Far Enough
Its title rendered as In the Pit, Mexican filmmaker Juan Carlos Rulfo’s En el hoyo could equally have had the noun translated as hole or grave, the latter a horror come-on but in this case related to the God-fearing musings of a female construction crew traffic director. Haunted by the “not one but many [lives] unavoidably” lost, sad-faced Natividad Sánchez Montes refers to a national legend that the Devil (whom she has seen) demands a soul as guarantor for every bridge.
In the construction-site profanity that abounds, one hardhat issues an expletive-filled warning that the foundation trench will fill with water, and in fact it soon all but disappears from the film (leaving only an opening and closing well from which an injured man is rescued). What is left for the great bulk of the documentary is an overpass, specifically a 2003-05 stretch of steel-and-concrete ten miles of the Second Deck of the capital’s inner Periférico freeway.
Eric Steel’s 2006 The Bridge controversially focused on the Golden Gate Bridge as a magnet for suicides, on those who jump and the witnesses and loved ones who must bear grief. Also seeking the human frame behind the steel, Rulfo’s aim is to record the lives and hopes of the working class who usually “will stay anonymous . . . as a number and a statistic.”
It would seem the film means to draw the viewer inwards, to excite empathy for these pleasant, sometimes emotionally lost men and a woman. Backed by a cacophony of machine groans, sighs, whizzes and bangs seconded by Leonardo Heiblum’s hardly noticeable industrial music score, this laudable effort does achieve some sense of modern metropolises’ redefinition and constant, noisy reconfiguration of themselves.
Though earnest, however, In the Pit does not take off. Adequate as a spare overview, it fails of its purpose to make engaging the “hopes, desires, faith and strength” of these subject citizens who normally go unnoticed and unsung. (America’s heroification of 9/11 first responders, firemen and workers is one outstanding anomaly.) Its international awards résumé includes Sundance’s World Cinema Jury Prize to Best Documentary but belies a lack of significant penetration beneath surfaces. The blame is not to be laid entirely on the filmmaker’s doorstep, for, Eric Hoffer romanticizing aside, these subjects are more Eddie Carbone of the fittingly named A View from the Bridge: hard-working Joes, they are minimally educated and, PR to the contrary, not all that articulate about themselves and their world.
Compounding the difficulty is the jump-around use of high-def digital video, with time-lapse 35mm inserts, so counterproductive that a first identifying subtitle for each of the half-dozen or so principals and ending titled still photos cannot fix who is who, not even with the aid of press handout blurbs. True, as they relax under camera scrutiny, they appear likeable and some vague philosophy does emerge, of fatalistic resignation to this hard lot in life. Even so, the most effective cinematic moments are the non-individualized last ones, a flyover of the completed spans, of indistinguishable work groups waving from those still under construction, and the only shots of the affected working-class barrio with the business and high-rise urban center at a physical and social distance.
The sole somewhat differentiated figure is that of “Chavelo” or “El Chaparro,” first on the scene, noticeable from what his nickname “Shorty” indicates, the butt of jokes about hygiene and body odor. Largely some forty feet up with helmets but no safety harnesses or resting below between shifts, occasionally in the cab of a wide-load truck or, once, showing off a home or rather confusingly riding bareback in what looks a two-horse fair race, the men’s talk is what one would expect: comments on specific female legs in the traffic-jammed cars at street level or on women in general, boastful or shy love, past glory, lousy pay that still beats farm wages, and kidding about their fellows’ prowess or sexual deviations. Man-talk, adolescent-talk, although, surprisingly, nothing about sports.
What emerges is at best a bland surface picture of those whom without the least thought one passes most every day in the great city, men who in a physical sense make such cities. That they are different, or that something special is to be learned from them (if only that they are really not very different) is arguable, but in any case In the Pit does not rise to its occasion.
(Released by Kino International; not rated by MPAA.)