2019, Movies

Mano de obra [aka Workforce] (2019, David Zonana)

This a very well-made, fascinating drama about manual labourers in Mexico City which threatens to become a thriller but consistently subverts your expectations and ends up having more in common with classical tragedy. It’s a debut, so I was very wary of choosing to see it, but this is a remarkably self-assured film.

I strongly suggest you watch this fascinating, surprising and affecting film if you can find it. (I hope it gets a deal but, based upon the number of people in the audience, I’m not holding my breath.)


Full disclosure: I am a sucker for films with long takes, very little camera movement and very little music. And this film ticks all three of those boxes. I’m not exactly sure why I love these things so much, but I suspect it’s because of when and where I grew up, and the sheer number of movies I saw with unnecessary camera movement and constant cutting. (And, of course, overpowering scores.) This film is deliberate but every shot is well thought out as is every cut. The long takes help create tension where there wouldn’t necessarily be any in a film with far more cuts and far more shots. The one time the camera zooms, it completely plays with your expectations and you’re additionally set up for the tragic finale.

Despite the pace, the plot is not as skimpy as you imagine, but the story is told in such a way that nearly all the tragedy is obscured or off-screen entirely. (Until the final tragedy, which is public.) There is a comment here about the nature of the suffering of Mexican manual labourers; how it is hidden from view except when they’re getting evicted.

One thing that really hit home for us: we were in Mexico City last autumn and stayed in an area such as this, and stayed in an apartment that had been renovated by people like this. We gave no thought to them, which is very much the point of these houses with metal doors and no windows, and these communities in which poor people do not reside.

But regardless of that tenuous personal connection, this is a really great film. I have been trying to think of things to nitpick last night and I am having a really hard time. I know that my expectations were unnecessarily low because I knew it was a debut, but the film is just really unique and really well done. It manages to look good and be relatively subtle at the same time. There’s a lot of social comment but it’s not overhanded. And I never knew what was going to happen next.


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