In the Pit: Doc Turns Hardship Into Pretty Pictures

Mexico City's Periférico freeway stands above an unknown number of graves holding some of the many men and women who slaved on this vast urban renewal project. Scrutinizing these workers, Juan Carlos Rulfo's documentary finds an endless number of ready-made spectacles for the delectation of his high-def video camera: ant-sized men toiling in gaping dirt holes; cataracts of traffic roaring through the night; immense platforms hoisted into place. Yet Rulfo's strong eye, time-lapse tableaux, and impulse to abstraction are undercut by his attempts at the human-interest angle—realized to very little interest. In the Pit's empathy for the laborers feels strictly skin-deep, its insight even shallower. Eavesdropping on his working-class heroes, Rulfo settles for bits of insult, macho bonhomie, vague musings, bromides. When a worker is killed by the roadside, the emphasis lands on a photogenic scatter of debris. What's irksome here isn't aesthetics per se but the pretense that they speak to human rather than plastic values. The movie climaxes in a wondrous helicopter shot traveling a great length of the Periférico. You'd marvel at the labor entailed were marvelous videography not so clearly the point.

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