During his interviews for Prince Avalanche, David Gordon Green’s remake of the Icelandic film Either Way, Green reckoned that he and Either Way director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson could have done multiple versions of the movie, set in different times and different countries. Upon reading the premise for Celso García’s feature film debut La Delgada Línea Amarilla (The Thin Yellow Line), one could see it as yet another version of the story.
La Delgada Línea Amarilla deals with a group of men who are assigned to paint the guiding lines for a stretch of road in Mexico; specifically, the one that connects two towns in the state of San Luis Potosí. In a Q and A session held after the film’s first screening in Ciudad Juárez, Garcia mentioned that the project had been in development since 2007, long before Sigurðsson’s film was released. Regardless, if García had been challenged by Green and Sigurðsson and responded with this film, he would have been more than a worthy opponent.
With La Delgada Línea Amarilla, Celso García proves to be one of the most exciting new voices in Mexican cinema. The movie focuses on Toño (Damían Alcazar), a security guard who has just been fired from his junkyard job. Happenstance leads him to encounter an old co-worker who offers him a job painting the guiding lines on the road alongside retired trucker Gabriel, played by Joaquín Cosio; Atayde (Silverio Palacios), a Renaissance-man of sorts; mysterious Mario (played by Gustavo Sanchez Parra); and finally, the seemingly pampered young Pablo (played by newcomer Américo Hollander). The movie tells the story of their adventures on the road and their relationships, all of them differently affected by their own pasts.
García’s film is subtle in its direction, with a manner that recalls David Lynch’s work in The Straight Story. García’s camerawork is simple, maybe distanced at points, but always hits the right spot. Even when the characters are silent, it’s easy to guess what they may be thinking or feeling. García’s screenplay is one that should be studied and seen as an example to follow. There many scenes and plot points that other directors could have exaggerated or made far too obtuse, but García avoids these pratfalls in a manner that seems masterful for such a young director. The movie has a lot of small set-ups that pay off in big ways for the audience. Absolutely nothing is inconsequential or gratuitous; even the most seemingly extraneous details acquire an amazing amount of relevance later on.
The cast too is uniformly excellent, with Sanchez-Parra giving a turn to the typecasting that he constantly falls under. Alcazar is gentle, intimidating and powerful in subtle manners. Palacios is hilarious as usual, but with a ton of heart, and Cosio gives one of his most heartwarming performances. Among the likes of the aforementioned actors, it would be tough for any young come-upper to be in the same frame as any of these behemoths of Mexican film, but Américo Hollander gives a performance that lives up to the challenge. Although his character is quiet and unlike the others, Hollander vividly expresses his doubts, his sadness and his desire to live up to the task he’s sharing with the other men most vividly, even without dialogue.
As someone who has traveled through the south of Mexico more than a few times, this for me feels like the first film since Y Tú Mamá También that genuinely captures what it’s like to be out on the road in Mexico. The storms, the roadside vendors, the abandoned buildings, the random ranches, and the small towns all ring true. This is a beautiful film that knows the beauty of its locations but never sacrifices its characters or story in favor of showing it off along with its cinematography.
Whilst Mexican cinema often deals with social issues, this is a movie that is more concerned with its characters above all else. There’s nothing wrong with films that deal openly with social issues, but García’s movie particularly reminds us that simple narratives based purely on people can just as be powerful. And although I’m all for filmmakers expressing themselves in all kinds of ways, it was gratifying to watch a compelling Mexican film that, despite some instances of strong language, could be shared with whole families and inspire new generations. La Delgada Línea Amarilla merits a wide, receptive audience, and with luck, García’s film will get the exposure it deserves.