La Zona wants justice at the High Museum’s Latin American Film Fest

Latin American Film Festival at the High

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Photo credit: Courtesy High Museum of Art
FIGHT CLUB: The Zone/La Zona, 2007

Grit and gray areas pervade La Zona, the opening-night feature of the High Museum’s 23rd annual Latin American Festival. First-time filmmaker Rodrigo Plá sets the tone with an early bird’s-eye-view shot of an affluent street. The tracking camera takes in the pristine homes and lawns, then a fence topped with barbed wire, and finally reveals that a teeming, impoverished Mexico City barrio completely surrounds the neighborhood.

La Zona takes its name from “The Zone,” the gated community that boasts its own private school, security force and convictions that it can police itself. When a storm causes a power failure and knocks a billboard over the gate, three thieves sneak in and murder a resident. La Zona’s citizens kill two of the assailants but cover up the incidents from principled city detective Rigoberto (Mario Zaragoza). Between the pressures of keeping the secrets and tracking down the remaining intruder, La Zona’s residents resort to worsening police-state tactics in the name of self-protection.

La Zona’s moral issues play out in the conscience of Alejandro (Daniel Tovar), a teenager who initially subscribes to his father’s suspicion of the official police force. Alejandro and his young pals emulate their parents by getting guns and looking for criminals on La Zona’s golf course (of all places), but the tactics of his parents’ friends and neighbors increasingly appall Alejandro. Given both the popularity and class-struggle implications of gated communities in Mexico, it’s easy to imagine an oversimplified American remake of La Zona with, say, Shia LaBeouf in the lead. (LaBeouf’s thrillers such as Disturbia show comparable interest in suspicion and surveillance technology.)

La Zona refuses to let the audience off the hook with easy resolutions, however. The film neither demonizes nor makes excuses for the intruders, and harshly condemns the justice system both within and outside La Zona. Even Rigoberto, a potential “good cop,” resorts to thuggish behavior. With rolling blackouts and a mood of increasing paranoia, La Zona echoes the classic “Twilight Zone” episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” which put suburban neighbors at each other’s throats. Plá’s La Zona takes place in a similar ethical twilight.