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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

In The Pit

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Early in the Mexican documentary In The Pit, a deeply religious traffic guard discusses an old legend claiming that whenever a bridge is built, the devil asks for one soul in order to ensure its durability. Apparently, this constitutes a health-insurance policy. In following a construction crew as it works on the Second Deck—a mammoth 10.5-mile bridge intended to relieve Mexico City's notorious gridlock—the film never overtly condemns the powers-that-be for cutting corners on safety and needlessly placing construction workers in harm's way. In fact, director Juan Carlos Rulfo observes almost passively, generally withholding judgment on anything in particular, though the cumulative effect of hair-raising moments (ironworkers hanging on columns over the freeway, rocks dislodged by rainwater dropping to the "pit" below, a scary late-hour freefall) is unquestionably damning.

For the half dozen or so workers profiled by Rulfo, the prospect of death is just a matter of course, but the men display a vastly varying and often fascinating range of opinions on how to deal with life. On one end of the spectrum, there's "Chabelo," an unflappably good-natured man who takes everything in stride, quietly convinced that the right perspective is the key to happiness. On the other, there's the misanthropic "El Grande," who bitterly laments that real money in Mexico City is earned through corruption, and honesty "only gets you beans and eggs." In between are several other colorful characters, including a self-professed lothario who strolls around with a porno mag stuffed in his back pocket, and a "voyeur" who likes to proposition women from great heights.

One of the film's many ironies is that love of any kind isn't really an option: These men are married to their work, and the few that aren't have been through multiple divorces. The other irony is that almost none of them earn enough money to afford a car, so they'll never drive across the bridge they've spent three years building. To its credit, In The Pit doesn't hammer these points home too emphatically; Rulfo's simple strategy of sticking close to his subjects and allowing them to wax philosophical about their lives and labors pays off. His real affinity for them only surfaces in the final 10 minutes, when his camera soars above the semi-completed structure, awed at their achievement.