The Mexican “Workers” tells the parallel story of two former lovers, who after a traumatic event have each filled out their lives differently, but at the same time are united because of the working environment of which they both belong. On the surface they seem like one of many, but underneath is a lot of personal tragedy. The question arises whether these people can take control of their own lives or whether they are doomed to exist in the shadows.
The rather unworldly Rafael (a stiff but engaging Jesus Padilla) is on the eve of his retirement, after thirty years of loyal service as a cleaner at a multinational. Especially for this, he buys an expensive pair of new shoes, gets a new haircut and, after all, gets a new tattoo to add extra joy to the joyful event. But when he comes to work the next day, it turns out that there is something wrong with the papers and he can whistle to his retirement provision. He is simply put back to work.
Rafael’s previous partner, industrious but humble Lidia (Susana Salazar), works to help the sick mother of a wealthy drug lord. The old woman is at the heart of all employees and they face her impending death with fear. When the inevitable death occurs, Lidia and the other staff are in for a big surprise. Not the aging maid and her colleagues, but the greyhound of the old lady runs off with the inheritance.
“Workers” is slow cinema in its purest kind, the pace is slow. The film takes the time to paint the picture of an environment that cannot be escaped, no matter how hard the characters work for it. Moreover, their past is very slowly made visible, which keeps the commitment to the two of them high. Cinematographically, “Workers” also takes its time. The film is full of long takes, consisting of really tight and beautifully framed shots that always feel refreshing and original. The camera work is fairly static, but because there is a lot of movement within the image, the film retains its dynamics. In the scene where Rafael visits a whorehouse to get his tattoo, the camera remains immobile outside for him. The result is a vibrant cityscape of Tijuana at sunset, the city of action. People walk in and out of the screen, creating a well-rounded dietetic game, something that “Workers” more often use in a subtle way. The slow speed makes the film feel akin to Italian neo-realism. The poverty, injustice and loneliness of the characters are all tangible. That is well done. The delicate lighting, the far-reaching sound and the play with time complete the overall picture.
Only towards the end of “Workers” does the revolt against the established order that must provide the two main characters, and thus also the spectator, the necessary air. It may take a while before they get to that point, but director Jose Luis Valle can be genuinely proud of this debut film. “Workers” is a slowly progressing tragedy, which can be enchanted precisely because of this.