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`In the Pit,' much remains obscured

March 23, 2007|Alex Chun | Special to The Times

"In the Pit" ("En el Hoyo") may seem an odd title for a documentary about a freeway, especially one that towers over the urban landscape of Mexico City and its 20 million inhabitants. Known by locals as the "Second Deck," the Periferico freeway is an awe-inspiring sight, especially when followed by an aerial camera for its 10 1/2 -mile length, dwarfing the workers below.

It's those workers, rather than the enormousness of the project, that interest Mexican filmmaker Juan Carlos Rulfo, who, by interviewing a handful, attempts to give some meaning to the thousands of otherwise overlooked men and women toiling in often dirty and dangerous conditions.

Jose Guadalupe Calzada, for example, is a thick, verbose and abrasive jack-of-all-trades who can be found everywhere from the bottom of a 50-foot-deep trench to a rebar ladder suspended 100 feet above the ground. In contrast, his friend Isabel Dolores Hernandez, a crane operator's assistant with questionable hygiene, is a man of few words whose only worries are working, eating and withstanding Calzada's verbal barbs.

Although Calzada, Hernandez and the other workers talk about God, love lost, mistresses, mothers, ex-wives and other manly things, Rulfo never manages to convey a sense of who they are or why anyone should care. He allows them to paint self-portraits that are neither flattering nor sympathetic.

Equally as perplexing as its lack of perspective is the film's overall shortage of information. The laborers rarely talk about their actual jobs, and the rescue of a worker from a dry well brings up questions that are never answered. How did the worker end up in the well, what is it for, and was he injured?

Ironically, given the director's intent, many of the most interesting scenes feature the freeway as the focal point, and Rulfo uses time-lapse photography with great effect to show that men as well as machines played a part in erecting the elevated marvel.

Another bit of irony -- which Rulfo could have used as a foundation -- comes from one of the workers who says of the almost completed freeway, "Too bad I'll never use this ... bridge because I don't even have a bicycle!"

"In the Pit." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St., L.A. (213) 617-0268.

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