Workforce (Mano de obra)

Taking what they’re giving ‘coz we’re working for a living.

(2019) Drama (Lucia FilmsLuis Alberti, Hugo Mendoza, Jonathan Sanchez, Horacio Celestino, Rodrigo Mendoza, Ramiro Resendiz, Jessica Galvez. Directed by David Zonana

It’s a scene that could be taken from any city in the world; construction workers building a house they could never ever afford, building materials scattered around the site, the sound of hammering competing with loud music on the radio. Then a body plummets down from the sky…

The body belongs to roofer Claudio, brother to Francisco (Alberti), a mason. Claudio’s death leaves his widow Lupe (Galvez) pregnant and without any possibility of a breadwinner to take care of her and her baby. Worse yet, the homeowner (Mendoza) insinuates that the reason Claudio fell was because he was drunk, a lie nobody believes but everyone accepts. What are they gonna do?

When the homeowner mysteriously hangs himself, Francisco decides to take possession of the mostly finished house, along with the families of several of the workers including the volatile Shorty (Sanchez). Francisco has a lawyer looking to get the house for the families living in it as the homeowner had no heirs. Soon, the dynamics between the workers now living in a luxury home in one of Mexico City’s toniest neighborhoods begins to change.

First-time feature director Zonana proves to have an excellent eye for shot composition, from the opening frames to the closing reel. The production design is also a great aid in that it takes the very modern house and gives it a sense of surrealness; sleek and modern but unfinished and rough-hewn in places. Along with cinematographer Carolina Costa, Zonana has a discerning eye; the opening shot is perfectly framed, allowing the body of Claudio to hurl from above just out of frame, landing out of frame, all the while observing the construction activity in the courtyard. The final shot is a wide-angle overhead shot that captures the despair and inhumanity of the situation. Both make for powerful bookends.

Alberti gives a nuanced performance in the lead role, starting out as a kind-hearted and socially aware man, but changing as his position of authority within his communal home begins to take its toll. By the time of the movie’s abrupt but inevitable ending, he has almost faded from the picture.

In these days of rising right-wing nationalism, there are more and more films coming out about the plight of the working class and more to the point, how they are exploited by the wealthy class. This movie has elements of satire to it but it is very much grounded in reality; the workers essentially accept late pay-checks, over-zealous fines for breakage and the condescension of the owner because they need the paycheck. Even the mini-worker’s revolt shown here re-emphasizes that the poor, as always, has the forces that are meant to protect them also against them.

REASONS TO SEE: Some lovely shot composition.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the plot points came off as a little dicey.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and sexual content here.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the debut feature film for Zonana.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/17/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beneath Us
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
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