A road movie in the most literal sense of the label, Celso Garcia‘s The Thin Yellow Line follows the efforts of a handful of workers to finish painting a long stretch of Mexican road before a rainy season makes their work impossible. As straightforward in its action as in its conceit, the film hits very familiar beats but does so in unusually credible fashion, thanks in part to the moral gravity of taciturn leading man Damian Alcazar, as a washed-up loner for whom even this menial job represents a chance at dignity. Modest but affecting, the pic will play very well with Spanish-language auds Stateside; though not unusual enough to draw much attention from Anglophone art house patrons, the film’s reach is enhanced by the presence of Guillermo del Toro in one of the producers’ chairs.
Alcazar is Antonio, a onetime construction foreman who fell off the grid decades ago and is now a night watchman living in a junkyard. Well, not any more: Business is bad, and the scrapyard’s owner just replaced him with a guard dog. Jobs are scarce in this corner of rural Mexico, and Antonio has to settle for pumping gas where he’s not even sure he’ll be paid; but when an old coworker stops by for a fill-up, Antonio once again gets the chance to lead a team.
A familiar but uncommonly effective road movie.
He is to go out with four novices and a rolling spray-paint machine to lay down a dashed yellow line for a 217-kilometer stretch between two small towns. A tedious job (and, with the rainy season due soon, one with a time crunch built in), but Antonio takes it very seriously: “Your flag is our life,” he warns the men who will stand a few yards away from the paint machine to wave down cars. But whereas this seriousness doesn’t keep him from being a good boss (he shares the work and reward equally), Antonio is strangely short of temper when it comes to 20 year-old Pablo (Americo Hollander), a distracted but generous-hearted kid who doesn’t deserve the grief.
The road will explain this friction eventually, of course, but well before that happens, it will dish out some hardships that force the unlikely team to bond. Garcia’s dialogue fosters an easy, earthy camaraderie between them, with enough jokes to make this a believable low-wage workplace but not enough to make the film a comedy.
The director and DP Emiliano Villanueva are appreciative of the hard, often desolate landscape this road winds through, and paired with Dan Zlotnick‘s not-quite-sentimental score, the movie’s sense of place convinces thoroughly. It’s the perfect setting for Antonio, who long ago had stopped looking for anything good in life, to achieve the kind of small satisfaction that might nudge him back into the company of the living.
Production company: Springall Pictures
Cast: Damian Alcazar, Joaquin Cosio, Silverio Palacios, Gustavo Sanchez Parra, Americo Hollander
Director-Screenwriter: Celso Garcia
Producers: Bertha Navarro, Alejandro Springall, Guillermo del Toro
Director of photography: Emiliano Villanueva
Production designer: Ariel Margolis
Costume designer: Gabriela Fernandez
Editor: Jorge Garcia
Music: Dan Zlotnick
Casting director: Alejandro Reza
No rating, 95 minutes