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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » July 30, 2008
The world of movies
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La Zona
July 30, 2008 By Witold ¯ygulski   
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Mexican director Rodrigo Plá takes us on a nightmare journey through the reality of contemporary Mexico in his first feature La Zona.

Plá dishes up generous references to modern cinema history, from Fernando Meirelles's multi-award winning City of God (2002) going right back to Arthur Penn's The Chase (1966). La Zona was a hit at nine film festivals and picked up the Luigi de Laurentiis Award at the Venice Film Festival and the International Critics' Award (FIPRESCI) at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The zone that gives the film its name is a wealthy enclave in Mexico City fenced off from the slums that besiege it on all sides by a high wall topped with barbed wire. Around-the-clock surveillance and private security guards see to it that the lower classes without never set foot within.

The motley of doctors, lawyers, accountants and retirees on above average pensions inhabiting the Zone may not qualify as super rich but they are preoccupied with security. This common quest leads them to willingly submit to constant supervision and to subordinate their lives to the edicts of their elected Council of Residents.

One day, the Zone is tragically yanked out of its solitude when a violent storm blacks it out and sends a huge billboard crashing onto the wall. Three drunken youths use the billboard and the darkness to scale the wall unseen, their hastily hatched plan being to make off with as much loot as they can, as quickly as they can. They manage to get caught in the first house they break into by the elderly female owner, who confronts them with a small pistol. The intruders knock her out and then strangle her. One of them rips the rings from the dying woman's fingers. The housekeeper, however, escapes and alerts security, who perfunctorily gun down two of the fleeing burglars. A posse of well-armed residents led by Gerardo (Carlos Bardem-Goya's Ghosts) is organized to hunt down the third, Miguel. One of the vigilantes, an architect named Daniel (Daniel Giménez Cacho-Nicotina) has a son, Alejandro, who has just turned 16. Alejandro is too sensitive to join the hunt with the same gusto as his friends. One has armed himself with a baseball bat, another with a spear gun and yet another with a gun he stole from his father.

The Council of Residents, over the objections of Alejandro's mother Mariana (Maribel Verdu-Pan's Labyrinth, And Your Mother Too), resolve to dispose of the dead and continue the chase without bothering to notify the police. The Zone's residents wield more than enough clout to stymie any investigation the local police chief, Comandante Rigoberto (Mario Zaragoza-Man on Fire) might be thinking about opening up, no matter how strong the evidence.

Predictably, Alejandro gets to the terrified fugitive first. What follows is a quick and painful lesson in adulthood for a boy who has so far lived a sheltered life.

A great deal of precision has gone into the making of La Zona. A phone number written on Miguel's arm and a hi-tech camera Alejandro gets for his birthday both become significant at some point. La Zona is also a morally ambiguous movie whose greatest failing is its attempt to elicit sympathy for the fate of a young man capable of brutally smashing in an elderly woman's head in cold blood.
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