The winner of the World Cinema Documentary Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, In the Pit charts the construction of the Periferico Beltway, Mexico City's mammoth elevated freeway system.
The premise sounds dry, but it is ultimately fascinating. Director Juan Carlos Rulfo uses time-lapse photography and remixed industrial noise to create a propulsive rhythm that keeps the film moving. The near 10-mile mass of concrete and iron rises with a forward momentum that parallels the autos that speed by. These visual and auditory techniques are impressive, but the film's true soul lies with the construction workers behind the engineering feats, whom Rulfo follows both on site and at home. The personalities span a wide range -- a likeable, soap-weary runt; a talkative, mischievous ex-criminal; a hyper-superstitious, religious woman; a weekend-cowboy shift foreman; a quiet, proud family man; and a highway voyeur who peers down the blouses of women driving by -- but each are connected by a camaraderie and strong work ethic. These traits are inspiring considering the dangerous conditions under which they work. Death is no stranger to those who work near reckless drivers, in pits that flood with rainwater or suspended above streets by flimsy cables. These ills -- and the society that allows them in the name of transportation and commerce -- could have been addressed further for a more well-rounded film, but Rulfo gets the point across succinctly without forced advocacy. (Phil Morehart) Grade: B