In the Pit
Centering on a construction crew for a mammoth freeway project in Mexico City, "In the Pit" (En el hoyo) is a documentary of unexpected beauty. Director Juan Carlos Rulfo finds gritty aesthetic power in the music of bulldozers and jackhammers, the textures of concrete and rock. Without contrivance or agenda, he also expresses something timeless and transcendent in the scope of the undertaking and in the stories of the workers. The film, which opened in early February in New York, recently screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival after reaping awards last year at Buenos Aires, Karlovy Vary and Sundance.
The second deck of the Periferico freeway is the longest elevated structure in the Mexican capital's history. Beginning in 2003, Rulfo spent more than two years with one group among the many men building the extension. He also serves as cinematographer, and along with the hard-hat workers, he descends into the dirt and dust of excavation pits and climbs onto girders rising above the rush of traffic.
A driver, inconvenienced by the construction site, suggests the builders should work 24 hours a day. "There are no good presidents in the world," one crew member observes. "Everyone has to work to death." But though most of the men building the second deck will never use it, the docu's focus is not class inequity. It's a meditation on our relationship with work. Shorty, who does "a little bit of everything," is philosophical: "You only have to know how to enjoy (life)."
And death is never far. A female security guard believes that traffic casualties on the freeway are the devil's due and that their souls become a part of the structure. When Rulfo caps the intimate film with an exhilarating six-minute aerial shot traveling the considerable length of the Periferico project, it's clear that much more than steel and concrete has gone into its construction.