David Zonana’s debut feature opens with a static shot, overlooking individuals working on the construction of a beautiful, luxurious home, when a worker falls off-screen, into the shot, to his death. The workforce rush to action, someone calls the ambulance, many gather around the body and another shouts for the victim’s brother Francisco (Luis Alberti).
Fellow workers support and show up for Francisco in the days that follow.
There is a real sense of community among them as they encourage Francisco in his quest to find justice for his brother, and support each other as their labour is exploited. There is a stark class divide in this film, echoed in many places globally. Watching Workforce inspires a sense of familiarity: perhaps the plight of the working class resonates, the sense of community or powerlessness in the face of injustice.
Zonana delivers a film that gives space for viewers to project and find a way to relate personally to the events. Many significant moments takes place off screen and often what we see, through powerful static shots, are the characters reacting to the repercussions of an off-screen action. These static shots, chosen in part to enable the mostly non-professional, outstanding cast, to act as they naturally would, have the impact of making the viewer feel like a welcome intruder. The film was shot chronologically and for most of the actors, a script was not provided. The actors are reacting naturally to a story unfolding, as the audience is. The dialogue is casual, real.
Despite the tragedy that befalls the protagonist, he remains generous and equally supportive of his community. The workforce celebrate with one another when there is an occasion, buying and sharing food with each other. The impression is that all of them do not have enough as they’re not compensated on time and sometimes not at all. This doesn’t come in the way of the community spirit; in one scene, Francisco is shown handing his recently acquired small paycheck to a coworker without any hesitation after he hears about their circumstances. This is despite Francisco’s own precarious living conditions.
In the first half of the film, Francisco’s actions, in the light of his pain and struggle with authorities who seem adamant to brush the tragedy under the rug, paint him in a bright, admirable light. For this reason, his subsequent violent retaliation against the owner of the home being built, does not immediately ruin him. Rather, in light of everything that’s happened, it feels justified, even while morally unacceptable. After moving into the now vacant home on the construction site, Franciso’s earlier generosity rears its head again and he chooses to invite his coworkers and their families to live with him and share what he’s gained from his revenge.
At this point in the film there is a strong sense of fairness and uncertainty. With everything that has passed, this is victory, how things should be. The world isn’t fair and it is the least fair to the working class, so what blooms is a mirage of justice, the only type one can expect from a corrupt world. And then, just as abruptly as the tragedy that sets off this drama, we watch the victim become the villain — though this is too simplistic of an interpretation.
Workforce confronts viewers with questions that do not have straightforward answers: does capitalism corrupt? Are people good or bad? Can a single action redeem a person of hurt they’ve caused and vice versa?
Francisco’s final act, which sets up the dramatic final shot of the play, is vindictive and arguably succeeds in stripping him of any sympathy felt for him. However, it is really just a stark reminder of how actions are not truly indicative of a person’s character and limits. People are a lot more complex and impressionable, products of our circumstances, our society and our egos. There’s no way to know how anyone, least of all ourselves, will fair presented with certain choices when desperation and capitalism have equal power to corrupt.
Workforce humanises and shows us intimately the ordinary happiness and frustrations of a group of construction workers. There is no good or evil, only circumstances navigated individually. A thoughtful and emotional film that’s made all the more real by the non-professional actors and the cinematographic decisions made by the filmmakers.
Workforce screened at LFF on the 3rd and 4th October
by Halima Hassan