The Zone

The Zone


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Rodrigo Plá's feature debut La Zona opens like Blue Velvet (1986). As the camera follows the path of a butterfly in a sweeping single-take aerial, it takes in picket-fenced mansions, immaculate lawns, fountained gardens and neatly uniformed schoolchildren – and anyone versed in their David Lynch will know already that this idealised vision of community is about to be deconstructed. Sure enough, the camera tilts up to a very high fence topped with a security camera and a vicious tangle of razor wire, before revealing the impoverished slums that seem to sprawl below in every direction. Welcome to La Zona, a gated fortress for Mexico City's affluent classes - which will turn out to be Lynchland in more ways than one.

When a storm brings down a billboard attached to the enclave's outer perimeter, three young men scale the twisted pylon to engage in a bit of opportunistic breaking and entering. Soon two of them, along with a houseowner and a security guard, will be dead, while the third, 16-year-old Miguel (Alan Chávez), will have fled into the night, unable to escape La Zona, and rightly terrified of what awaits him if he is captured. For apart from a few muted voices of dissent, the residents of La Zona are determined to keep the law – as embodied by tenacious police captain Rigoberto (Mario Zaragoza) - out of the picture and to resolve the situation for themselves.

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As the good citizens of La Zona set about covering up the deaths of the previous night, preventing any leaks, and beginning an armed manhunt, Alejandro (Daniel Tovar), himself just turned 16, discovers Miguel hiding in the basement, and decides not to tell his parents Daniel (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and Mariana (Maribel Verdú) that they are harbouring a fugitive – which is just as well, given that Daniel is one of the leaders of the posse determined to silence Miguel for good. The events that follow will expose the tensions within Alejandro's family, within the community of La Zona, and within the nation of Mexico, where the haves and the have-nots operate according to very different laws.

La Zona begins with a seemingly simple crime, and then, with all the insistence and aloofness of a surveillance camera, watches it spiral and ramify until everyone, whether at its centre or on its distant periphery, gets somehow drawn into its web of complicity and compromise, and all men (and women) end up judged equal, not so much in the eyes of the law, as in their collective guilt. Absolutely no bones are made about the three original inflitrators of La Zona, all of whom are driven unequivocally (although to different degrees) by criminal intent – and perhaps conversely the residents' initial kneejerk response might easily be justified as self-defense, at least at first. It is only as the darkness clears that the residents' rather complicated motivations, attitudes and backstories are exposed more fully to the light – as is the rather limited role played by Miguel in the original crime.

In short, all parties here are heavily compromised. Even the dogged police captain turns out to have a checkered past and a serious case of class envy, while his partner and (worse) his superiors are more straightforwardly corrupt. Plá is unflinching in his portrayal of both the original act of burglary and murder, and of the subsequent vigilante backlash. The punishment is shown truly to match the crime if only in its ugly, violent horror – but at the same time we are never allowed to forget that the dead (or soon-to-be dead) on both sides have relatives who are themselves also victims. It is a complex, ambitious anatomisation of the workings of justice in a deeply iniquitous world, where privilege brings its own unbalanced presumptions, and where those on one side of a wall rarely appreciate or sympathise with what life is like for those on the other.

La Zona is at once a noirish thriller, a social drama, a morality tale, a coming-of-age story (for both Alejandro and Miguel, in their different ways), and a compelling allegory of 'fortress' USA. That it manages to be all these things without ever losing its grip marks the arrival of yet another formidable Mexican talent onto the international scene.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2008
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Residents of an affluent Mexican city enclave seek vigilante justice.
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Director: Rodrigo Plá

Writer: Rodrigo Plá, Laura Santullo

Starring: Daniel Giménez, Maribel Verdú, Daniel Tovar, Carlos Bardem, Marina de Tavira, Mario Zaragoza, Andrés Montiel, Blanco Guerra, Enrique Arreola, Gerardo Taracena, Alan Chávez

Year: 2007

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Mexico


London 2007
Viva 2008

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