Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 6, 2007
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
Diane Gordon
Robert Rotondo
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
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  Bowling for Columbine
Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
Dirty Pretty Things
Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X

rodrigo pla's

Rodrigo Pla

reviewed by



It was alleged that in 1993, during the Carlos Salinas Presidency, 30 of Mexico's richest businessmen were invited to what became known as the Billionaire’s Banquet, where the assembled were encouraged to pledge $25 million/person for the upcoming presidential campaign.

Judging by Rodrigo Pla’s second feature film, La Zona (2007), not much has changed as it concerns Mexican politics and the great divide between the prosperous and penurious. Gated communities are a common feature in all the big ciudades, but not nearly as common as the multitudinous poor for whom the better life is but a dream that will not survive the morning’s first light.

La Zona, found in the heart of Mexico City, is an opulent, walled-in community, with its own high tech surveillance and security systems. The film opens with the camera gliding from one immaculate residence to another, then suddenly lifting to reveal the squalor on the other side of a 30-feet high wall, where the wretched of Mexico are concentrated, many of whom must resort to crime to make dead-ends meet.

During a driving rainstorm, a huge billboard sign comes crashing down on the wall, knocking out La Zona’s electricity. Three criminally minded youths hoist themselves up the sign and enter the forbidden zone – their El Dorado. But things go horribly wrong during an attempted house robbery and an elderly woman is murdered. A maid alerts private security and two of the thieves are killed, but the third escapes. Instead of notifying the local authorities, the citizens of La Zona decide to take the law into their owns hands. They form a vigilante group, the event which becomes the focal point of Uruguayan-born Rodrigo Pla’s complex and expertly cinematographed story refracted through the conflicted psyche of 16-year old Alejandro (Daniel Tovar), who is caught between family, privilege and the calling of conscience. When he learns that the mob, which includes his father, has decided on frontier justice for the missing bandito, Alejandro must make the most important decision of his life.

The film moves briskly, its deliberate pacing and suspenseful build up owed to the creative camera work of Emiliano Villanueva, who doesn’t stop at the facile contrasts offered by La Zona and La Barrio, but focuses on them until they reveal their souls. Sometimes rock steady, sometimes unstable, the lens takes its cue from the film's varied locations as well as from the edgy mindset of La Zona’s citizens as they grapple with their identity.

Despite the use of conventional props (haves versus have-nots, good cop/bad cop), our identification with the La Zona's major and especially minor characters is what sustains this gritty film, whose thoughtful script explores the underpinnings of power and control and the imperatives of mob rule. Pla’s agenda is far-reaching and it is to his credit, in only his second film (his first was Inner Desert), that he implicitly raises the question of what are the real differences, if any, between the rich and poor -- besides money. Does reason or human nature prevail when the going gets rough? If the project of La Zona could be reduced to an epigram, it would provided by Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset, who observed that "every life a reaction to the insecurities of life."

For the best of reasons, La Zona won the People’s Choice Award at Montreal’s 2007 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, and prior to that, a major mention at the Venice Film Festival. Since it’s all too sadly predictable that festival films, including the very best, are mostly fated to disappear once they’ve exhausted the festival circuit, La Zona will probably not buck the trend, but if I were a betting man . . . .

Postscript to Montreal's 2007 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma

When it comes to pulling of a successful film festival, there’s nothing like a solid line up of films from around the world, which is why the 2007 version of Montreal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, under the guidance of Nicolas Deltruc and program director Claude Chamberlan, was the most successful to date -- backed up by the bottom line: ticket sales. Despite a smaller budget and lower profile, it compares favourably with Montreal’s biggest festival, the Montreal World Film Festival.

Among films worth seeing are La visite de la fanfare by Eran Kolirin , winner of the prestigious Louve d’or, XXY by Lucia Puenzo, Poor Boy's Game by Clement Virgo, Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame by Hana Makhmalbaf, Nothing Else Matters by Julia Von Heinz, Boxing Day by Kriv Scenders, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days by Christian Mungiu, and from the documentary category Fados by Carlos Suara.

For A & O's ratings of most of the films, click HERE.


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