La Zona

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Privacy is one of the most precious things we have. Freedom from intrusion, disturbance and the view of others; privacy is a right. What happens when privacy ceases to be individual and becomes collective? The growth of violence and insecurity has created a phenomenon in many big South American cities: the “barrios privados,” gated communities outside main cities, fortresses with private guards watching, making the privileged who live inside the walls to think they’re “safe.”

La Zona is Rodrigo Plá’s directorial debut, and was adapted by him and Laura Santullo, author of the original short story. It’s a first feature that did very well in the international festival circuit, winning awards at Toronto and Venice. The film has brought together a few well known actors like Blanca Guerra (Lucía), Spaniards Daniel Giménez Cacho (Daniel), Maribel Verdú (Mariana) and new promising talents like Alan Chávez as Miguel. Alejandro (Daniel Tovar) appears in the first scene driving inside “la zona” being followed by the security cameras, in an image that anticipates part of the story: these affluent people seem to have everything except happiness. They are caught by their own freedom under the surveillance of an eye – the view of others – so ever-present that it has become an intruder.

After a power failure makes a private neighborhood in Mexico City vulnerable, resulting in a fatal robbery, residents are left in a state of shock. Before the incident becomes public, they decide to conceal it and take justice into their own hands. Officer Iván (Enrique Arreola) also tries to solve the case on his own but must fight against the police department’s corruption.

The story builds up suspense from beginning to end, and makes the audience identify unusually with the poor “bad guys,” contrasting them with the group of rich people who lie to the police and don’t care about anything but their internal eco-system. This aspect of the plot is handled in a very smart way: it doesn’t matter if those thieves get into the private property and kill; we only want social justice. Is it fair? Is it about good vs. bad or is it an urgent call for discussion about inequity? Plá and Santullo add an interesting element: while Daniel leads the persecution of the supposed killer, Miguel, one of the thieves who escaped the deadly night of the robbery is discovered by Daniel’s son, Alejandro, in his own basement. Here the film has a golden opportunity to rise above the genre as a sensitive reflection on friendship beyond classes, but instead, gives in to the suspense structure, becoming a victim on two levels. On the one hand, the relationship between Alejandro and Miguel can’t be fully developed. On the other hand, to keep constant the “cat and mice” chase, the film falls into cliché and overboard situations that could excite some audiences but really disappoint others.

Immorality everywhere, dissatisfaction among the poor and emptiness among the rich,, boredom and isolation, all create a zone surrounded by a big wall that not only produces a new unofficial geographic border, but also leads to an inevitable transformation: if it wasn’t possible to get in, it won’t be possible to get out. The private turns into public, and everybody becomes trapped: the residents, the thieves, the police, the public and even the film too. Depending on which level you want to play, you may find the exit or not.