Some professions are better than others, but in the end what really makes or breaks a job is the atmosphere. Even the most menial position can be made palatable by an understanding boss, a positive, collegial relationship with your coworkers, and decent pay. But as anyone who’s had the pleasure of living such a workplace idyll can attest: one day the boss will be gone and everything will come crashing down around you.
This basic human truth seems to have inspired first-time Mexican filmmaker Joaquín del Paso, who returned to his native country after a six-year stint in Poland to make the allegorical workplace comedy Maquinaria Panamericana. Influenced by his own family’s involvement in the decidedly unglamorous construction machinery industry, del Paso and co-writer Lucy Pawlak have put together a story that explores what we do when our idyllic world is seemingly pulled out from underneath us.
Taking place in a fictional construction company named Maquinaria Panamericana, the eponymous film presents us with a workplace run by a decent, caring man named Don Alejandro. For decades Don Alejandro has run his business like a family, and his employees return the favor with their enthusiasm and hard work. When Don Alejandro suddenly dies, his faithful workers come to learn that he has been paying their wages out of pocket for years, and their whole lives are about to change for the worse.
Described by del Paso as an allegory for the precarious position of Mexican workers — and Mexican society as a whole — Maquinaria Panamericana nevertheless promises to be universally relatable. A brief, one minute teaser released ahead of its Berlinale premiere earlier this year showcases del Paso’s breezy, ironic brand of comedy without presenting much in the way of conflict. Judging from the film’s promotional materials, Maquinaria’s production team seems to be willfully vague about what actually happens over the course of the film’s ninety minutes. We can say for sure, however, that if we had to work in the construction industry, Don Alejandro’s operation wouldn’t be a bad place to end up.