Showing the good side of Mexico

The Thin Yellow Line, starring Damian Alcazar, revolves around a road-painting crew hired for a job in a parched, rural section of Mexico.
The Thin Yellow Line, starring Damian Alcazar, revolves around a road-painting crew hired for a job in a parched, rural section of Mexico.PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR

Celso Garcia says his film The Thin Yellow Line is about the real Mexico and the good and helpful people there

Think of Mexico in cinema and it is likely that images of violence, guns and narcos (slang for drug traffickers) come to mind.

In Hollywood films such as Sicario (2015) and No Country For Old Men (2007) and television shows including the Emmy- winning Breaking Bad (2008- 2013), an almost cartoon-like picture of Mexico emerges, one that makes the North American nation look like a nightmarish place, home to cold-blooded killers who wreak havoc in the United States.

Mexican film-maker Celso Garcia, 39, is aware of this and it is why he is so glad his drama, The Thin Yellow Line, has been a festival hit overseas.

The 95-minute film, which is rated NC16, premiered here at the Singapore International Film Festival last year and has been brought back by the Mexican Embassy,  screening tomorrow at The Projector.

Garcia, speaking to The Straits Times on Skype from his home base in Guadalajara, says it was important for him to make a film about "the good face of Mexico".  

"I want to show the reality of the country - the good people, the helpful people. There are films made in Mexico that show violence and blood and criminals. But there should be diversity, and this is another kind of story."

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"There's a new generation of film-makers who don't want to talk about violence. They want to talk about other things," he says.

His cast, comprising mostly of middle-aged men, play five members of a road-painting crew hired for a job in a parched, rural section of the country. The task seems absurd - why paint a line down a 200km stretch that has almost no traffic? - but the men need the money and each brings his own story.

Under the blazing sun, the ragtag team proves to be inexperienced and quarrelsome. Crew leader Tono (Damian Alcazar) has a short time to unite them or the project will fall apart.

The film has won 14 international awards at festivals in Spain, Canada and Germany. Garcia says he was inspired to write it after seeing a road crew on a drive from Guadalajara to the state of San Luis Potosi, where the film was eventually shot.

"It started raining. The guys stopped work and ran under a piece of yellow plastic to wait. That image stuck with me and I wanted to know where they came from and how they lived," he says.

The writer-director spent time with a real road crew before writing the script.

"When you are writing about something, you have to try to live it, at least for a couple of weeks, to know what you are talking about," he says.

He blended in well - no one on his crew saw him for an artist trying to pass as a blue-collar worker, he says with a laugh. He got to know some men on the crew and used their life experiences in the screenplay.

Hollywood has a way of luring rising directors from Mexico. They include Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, 2013), Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, 2013), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant, 2015) and, now, Garcia.

Garcia's Los Angeles projects include a movie based on a superhero from a Mexican comic book, and Velvet, based on the true story of a 19th-century Mexican woman born with a thick coat of hair all over her body, who became a famed freakshow attraction. 

"Mexican directors have a particular vision... up in the north, you have the US, and we grow up with the American way of life in films and television. On the other side, we have Latin America, where we get deep family ties, religion, nostalgia and many great writers," says Garcia.

"All these things - we combine them. It's a peculiar vision and it attracts people from all over the world."

Correction Note: An earlier version of this story said that Guillermo del Toro was a producer. This information is not yet confirmed. It has been corrected.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2016, with the headline 'Showing the good side of Mexico'. Print Edition | Subscribe