TIFF Report: LA ZONA Review
It's class warfare in a very literal sense in Rodrigo Pla's La Zona. Alejandro is a wealthy Mexican teen on the cusp of his sixteenth birthday. His family live in a neighborhood known simply as La Zona - The Zone - an enclave of the rich and powerful separated from the rampant poverty around them by walls, gates, razor wires and surveillance cameras. La Zona has its own private security force, it's own schools and shops. There is no reason for the youth of The Zone to ever exit its walls, they live safe and secure live within its bounds entirely ignorant of the world outside. The seperation of La Zona from the surrounding world is so extreme that it has even negotiated a special exemption from the laws of the land, choosing to exist as a self governing structure. But the real world can never be kept entirely at bay ...
Late in a violently stormy night the cables supporting a decrepit billboard snap, sending the tower crashing down into the Zone's wall, causing immense damage to the protective structure while simultaneously providing a makeshift ladder, a ladder immediately climbed by a trio of impoverished youth outside the Zone looking for a quick bit of plunder in the confusion. Things go horribly wrong, an elderly woman is killed along with two of the thieves and a security guard with the last member of the trio, the teenaged Miguel, left stranded within the Zone's walls, terrified and frightened for his life. And with good reason. Distrusting the corrupt police and afraid that the violence may void their privileged legal status the residents of the Zone choose to cover up the event disposing of the bodies and stonewalling the police while they arrange a hunting party and lynch mob for the surviving thief.
A sharp social satire, and one disturbingly close to the reality of segregated communities in many parts of South America, La Zona tracks the lives of two youths, youths whose lives could be virtually identical if not for the simple fact of where they were born. Terrified of the outsider in their midst the privileged few, so certain of their own superiority, quickly spiral downward into a world of paranoid McCarthyism and blood lust. The basic humanity of their quarry is never a factor, all that matters is their overwhelming drive to keep what they have. Well shot and solidly constructed La Zona wears its ideas on its sleeve while following a very straight narrative line but this is one case where seeing what's coming does not detract from the picture whatsoever. Pla has a worthwhile point to make and he argues it well with the help of a supremely talented cast, many of whom will be familiar to anyone who has seen any Mexican film (Pan's Labyrinth, anyone?) in the past few years.