La Zona Review
The debut feature film from Mexican director Rodrigo Plá, winner of best first feature at the Venice Film Festival 2007, La Zona very clearly has a point to make about Mexican society and perhaps about the divisions in society on a grander global scale. And correspondingly, it makes grand gestures, taking those social issues and attitudes to what would appear to be their logical if rather extreme conclusion. By taking it to those extremes however, the film seems to take on a dramatic momentum of its own, which is not short of action or tension, but which seems to come at the expense of whatever point the film was trying to make in the first place.
That kind of grand gesture doesn’t come much more potency that in the image of a dividing wall between two sections of the community, one moreover that is monitored by hi-tech security alarms and camera monitors. The wall surrounds the compound of exclusive residences where the wealthier population of the Mexico City live, keeping the lower and criminal classes outside, except for those they allow in to work as servants in their mansions. However, after a particularly violent thunderstorm the security system fails and a fallen billboard allows three youths entry into the “Zone”. Taking advantage of the power-cut and the temporary blackout, the three youths attempt to burgle a house, violently attacking the owner. The robbery fails however, and two of the youths are shot, but the owner of the house has also been killed resisting the robbery, as well as a security guard, accidently shot in the resulting confusion. Used to controlling matters independently – they have their own security and autonomous committee for dealing with internal affairs – the residents of the Zone decide to clear up the mess themselves and not involve the police, but there is still one boy in the compound, and his parents outside want to know what has happened. One tenacious officer attempts to investigate what has occurred, but finds his efforts hampered not only by the residents of the Zone, but by higher authorities in the Police Service.
Based on a story by the director’s wife, Laura Santullo, La Zona certainly presents a situation rife with deep feelings and mounting tension as the residents strive to cover-up what has happened and silence those within who want to report the incident. Hiding out in the basement of one of the houses moreover, the remaining intruder Miguel remains a wild card, as long as he is alive and can testify to what has happened. The police meanwhile have embarked on a battle of nerves with the Zone’s authorities in their attempt to uncover the truth.
The film poses a number of interesting questions regarding taking the law into your own hands, with regards to segregation, paranoia and insularity, rich versus poor, good versus bad, and it’s not a bit subtle about it. And sure enough, everything is overplayed to the point where it quickly becomes ludicrous. It doesn’t even take to long to reach that state with the initial and pointless act of not reporting the incident to the police in the first place. Thereafter, the film becomes a catalogue of stupidity after stupidity, the apparently wealthy and intelligent residents compounding a problem which need never have been a problem in the first place with scarcely credible behaviour that you don’t have to be a suspicious cop to cotton on to the fact that they are covering something up. Although perhaps if you live in a “zone”, detached from the real world, comfortable in your insularity, perhaps you will become stupid, paranoid, seeing the world outside as a threat, even turning on each other to preserve a united front against that world...
Oh, wait... now I get it... it’s meant to be an allegory, isn’t it?...
Yes, indeed - on that level, even if it’s not particularly subtle about it (but then again Mexican cinema isn’t exactly noted for its subtlety) - La Zona plays out reasonably well, if not quite as intelligently as many critics have rated it. There is no reason to expect the people in the “zone” to behave as normal people, because they have given up their individuality to their self-appointed authorities and security people, who will make the decisions for them. In this respect, the film follows its internal logic through well – the Zone operating as a machine, interested only in its own self-preservation. Unfortunately, what sounds feasible if it has the momentum of a… oh, let’s say a nation and a government with the power to bend the will of the people to its own ends and silence dissent, becomes somewhat less convincing and meaningful when applied allegorically to a small community fabricated for the sake of the film, no matter how rich, powerful and influential those in that little enclave might be, particularly one whose actions appear to be motivated out of stupidity and fear rather than any carefully considered and thought-through plan.
In order to make this work on those terms, the film has to resort to what you might call movie-logic, or suspension of disbelief, where the characters don’t act as real people, but are stock figures, capable of being inconsistent even within their own roles, as long as they serve the intent of the film’s allegorical message. And what exactly is the point La Zona is trying to make at the cost of any realistic narrative trajectory? The rich look after themselves? The poor have no voice? The system is corrupt? It’s not exactly a perceptive insight and it’s not one particularly well served by its cops-and-robbers thriller setting. Without any more meaningful point that stands up to any real scrutiny, La Zona is essentially worthless - just a badly-acted thriller, and a rather implausible one at that.
La Zona is released in the UK by Soda Pictures. The film is presented on a single-layer disc, in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
The film is given an anamorphically enhanced, progressive transfer at its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the standard definition transfer looks reasonably good on an averaged-sized television. The image is a little soft, there is some blue-edge colour bleed and blacks aren’t particularly well-defined - flattened out and tending towards a blue tinge of low-level noise - but transfer is stable, shows accurate colours, well-toned and desaturated, with no signs of any marks or artefacts.
There is only a stereo Dolby Digital 2.0 track available, but it’s more than sufficient. It’s loud, packs quite a punch and conveys the film’s soundtrack well.
English subtitles are optional. The font is off-white, suiting the desaturated look of the film perhaps better than a bright white font. The subtitles remain entirely within the 2.35:1 frame and not in the black border beneath the image.
There are no extra features.
La Zona has been highly praised for its intelligent approach, but I don’t see any sophistication in either the film’s premise or the confused manner in which it plays out, relying on implausibly stupid and inconsistent characters and convenient movie thriller conventions that ultimately detract from any wider morally instructive point the film might have. The film is transferred reasonably well to DVD by Soda Pictures, but there are no extra features on their release.