[original title: La delgada línea amarilla]
The Thin Yellow Line is a special kind of road movie: it is a road movie taking place at walking speed.
11 years ago, Tono took up a poorly paid job as night watchman at a junk yard. He has retired from the world and very much lives the life of a recluse in his humble abode at the yard, happy to die there just like the cars he is guarding.
Suddenly, and without warning, he finds himself replaced by a dog. He does not really know what to do with himself, until a chance encounter with a man from his past opens up an opportunity to go back into his old profession: road maintenance work.
Thus he finds himself as foreman of a crew of four drifters, people of various ages and from various backgrounds who – just like Tono – have somehow lost their way in life. Their job is to walk along a lonely country road for more than 200 kilometres, pushing a little machine that paints the yellow line in the middle of the road. As the film is about being lost, about finding oneself again, and about the need for guidance, this thin yellow line becomes the symbolic guiding line for these five people – and for a dog who is just as lost as they are.
Writer/director Celso García tells a story about life that is beautiful, quiet, melancholic, and at times tragic. His film, however, is not without humour, although – as is often the case with Latin American cinema – this humour can occasional be rather bitter. García says he also wanted to pay homage to the working men of Mexico, who in his opinion are often unfairly and stereotypically portrayed as one-note machos.
In The Thin Yellow Line, all the men in this quintet are different, each one an individual, three-dimensional character. García paints a picture of life, and a picture of these five men, and he does so beautifully. This story-telling is supported by an outstanding achievement by the cinematographer, Emiliano Villanueva, who created a really beautifully shot film which uses the rural Mexican landscape to great effect.
The great writing, directing, and cinematography are supported by equally outstanding acting performances. Damián Alcázar, one of Latin America’s most talented actors, excels in the role of Tono. And the other four characters that make up the core cast are also portrayed by highly talented actors: Silverio Palacios, Joaquán Cosio, Gustavo Sánchez Parra, and Américo Hollander. Some of these actors already knew each other, which made the work easier for the director. The minor roles in the film are also played by talented actors without exception.
Celso García has repeatedly praised Alcázar for his talent and his great dedication to his craft. Alcázar is a method actor, which in his case is not limited to staying in character when the cameras are not rolling. Shooting films in various countries throughout Central and South America, which all have their distinct versions of Spanish, each with many local dialects, Alcazár likes to live in the area his character is from for several weeks or months prior to shooting. In preparation for The Thin Yellow Line, he also spent several weeks with road maintenance crews in Mexico. And García marvelled at Alcázar’s ability to age himself for this film, including changing the age of his voice and of the way he walks.
Talking of authenticity: many of the scenes in the film were actually shot on the very road that the story in the film takes place on. García estimates that his crew and his actors actually painted around 10 kilometres of yellow lines during the making of this film.
All-in-all, the film took seven years to come to life, from the first version of the script, through all the stages of getting financing and production organised, until the completion of the end product. Guillermo del Toro, who met García many years ago while judging a short film competition, had joined this production very early on as a producer, and García praised him for his support and for giving him as director the space that he needed.
The Thin Yellow Line won awards at several festivals, including Montreal and Mannheim-Heidelberg. I recommend this film to all fans of the genre, and am inclined to rate it at 9.0 to 9.5 out of 10.