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Friday, May 4, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"In the Pit" shows camaraderie on a monster freeway project

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars


Showtimes

"In the Pit" ("En El Hoyo"), a documentary directed by Juan Carlos Rulfo.

84 minutes. Not rated; contains language. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Watching "In the Pit" is like listening to a CD with one really great song on it. Everything is geared toward the grand finale, which doesn't disappoint.

It takes some patience to get there, but if you've ever been fascinated by a large and complex construction site, Juan Carlos Rulfo's oddly affecting documentary may offer a kind of blue-collar bliss. If nothing else, it'll make you appreciate the awesome scale of a project that seems almost Sisyphean in nature, as if it could go on forever and never be completed.

From March 2003 to December 2005, Rulfo trained his high-def digital video cameras on construction of the "Second Deck" of Mexico City's Periferico freeway, a seemingly endless stretch of elevated concrete that's the iron-and-asphalt equivalent of the Panama Canal. It's the kind of project that claims lives, imbued with an ever-present atmosphere of challenge and threat.

It's also a cauldron of humanity, and Rulfo avoids conventional documentary details (statistics, history, expert testimony, etc.) in favor of intimate portraits of one particular construction crew. They're a mixed bag of vivid personalities, and Rulfo's our liaison to their daily routines of dangerous duties, sexist and/or homophobic jokes, off-the-job dreams and profanity-laced camaraderie.

Rulfo's more interested in the workers than the work itself, and "In the Pit" is most involving when exploring the personal philosophies that these workers bring to the job. Too often, however, Rulfo's passive approach leaves you thinking that interesting stories are being left untold.

Then comes the coup de grace — an astonishing, nearly seven-minute fly-over shot of the entire "Second Deck" in progress, accompanied by an eerily effective industrial score (by Leonardo Heiblum) that gives "In the Pit" an almost mythical air of mystery.

Whether the massive freeway ultimately serves its purpose seems almost beside the point; for its construction crews, it's the building of it that brings meaning to their lives.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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