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A gently-paced film that packs a punch
THE Thin Yellow Line - a road movie in more ways than one - is the story of five down-and-out strangers hired to paint the dashed line dividing a road between two small towns in rural Mexico. They are required to complete the 217-kilometre-long task in 15 days, before the rainy season arrives.
This debut feature by writer-director Celso Garcia is small-scale, big-hearted and well-crafted, filled with palpable affection for characters whose backstories normally wouldn't warrant a second glance.
The Thin Yellow Line is a simple and effective tale about men bound by a common purpose, bonding over the twists and turns that life on this particular road throws at them.
Antonio (Damian Alcazar) is a grizzled night watchman at a dusty junkyard whose only comfort is that he has a roof over his head.
One day, a man drives up in a pick-up and tells him he can no longer afford to employ him. "I see you brought my replacement," says Antonio, nodding at the large Rottweiler in the back of the man's truck.
His whole life is compressed into a small leather box that he carries with him, with faded pictures of family members, old letters and a wrinkled newspaper clipping about a long-ago accident at a work site.
He finds unfulfilling work at a gas station but times are hard and his once-proud demeanour has been replaced by melancholy and grim resignation.
One day a colleague from the past pulls into the station - he's an engineer (Fernando Becerril) who remembers that Antonio was once a capable site supervisor and as it happens, he has a road to paint and a job to offer. "The road is calling you again," says the engineer.
It may be a hard task in searing heat but Antonio has a strong sense of responsibility and is grateful for the chance to do some meaningful work, with a decent payday at the end of it. When he's introduced to the motley crew of deadbeats who will be his road crew, he assigns each a task and explains that they need to work as a team to be successful.
There's Atayde (Silveiro Palacios), a circus worker with many entertaining stories to tell; Gabriel (Joaquin Cosio), who yearns to get back behind the wheel of a big truck but whose eyesight is failing; Mario (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), an ex-con and petty thief; and Pablo, a sullen teenager with a disdain for authority. All have something to hide - and something to contribute to the crew.
They encounter a rude motorist whose car later breaks down, camp out at night and exchange stories by firelight, and experience the kindness of strangers.
Antonio is especially hard on the young Pablo, driven perhaps by an incident from his own past. "Were you always so bitter?" asks Pablo - with some justification.
Naturally, the road yields some life lessons along the way. By the end, the men will experience kinship and mutual respect, and they will also know loss and tragedy.
The Thin Yellow Line packs a poignant punch for a gently-paced film about painting a road - sometimes, it's the quietest films that make the best impressions.
- The Thin Yellow Line (La Delgada Linea Amerilla) will screen at 8pm on July 22 at The Projector