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The Streets Of La Merced
Key to the movie's look and feel was the decision to shoot among the streets of La Merced, one of Mexico's most dangerous gangster quarters where Landesman had first trekked to tell his tale. The lively squatters' slum is a maze of sewage-soaked alleyways, curbside vendors and yapping dogs. Buffered at one end by Mexico City's busiest street market and on another by a red light district, the film's location is only a block from where the girls of "la parabola” parade daily under the watchful eyes of knife-toting pimps, selling sex for 20-60 pesos (around $2 to $6). 

"Don't go near there without one of our security guards – and hide your watches,” a crewmember cautions. Still, one makeup woman ventures out alone to research the girls' rouge for a later scene.  Along the narrow street of Santo Thomas, mothers and daughters peer curiously at the crew vans and tangled cables set up to shoot Scene 40, in which Veronica and Adriana befriend each other in a stash house. The barrio's tenement buildings were rented out by the production after weeks of negotiations with dozens of families and their neighborhood bosses, or lider, who traditionally place squatters in unclaimed buildings that can shelter eight or more people to a room. 

As the cameras are readied, a women drops by to ask in Spanish what all the fuss is about. Told that a movie is being made about a girl who is kidnapped by sex traffickers, she replies, "You've come to the right place. That happens a lot around here.”

Stray dogs are everywhere. One of them, a lactating German shepherd that jealously guards her courtyard, is hauled up by an improvised harness to a tin rooftop, where she's readied for her close-up. She snarls perfectly on cue. 

"A lot of the buildings have already been cleaned up for us – when we walked in here at first we kind of had to avoid the dog shit in the rooms,” smiles unit photographer Marco Nagel as he snaps away. "Nearly everyone has already gotten Montezuma's revenge. Marco and Daniel (Gottschalk) got tapeworms and even gave them names. Marco's was ‘Horst.'” 

At the end of a murky passageway, crew members set up viewing monitors next to a cramped courtyard. Above them, a few dead chickens dangle on a clothesline. Nearby, flies buzz around a family's decapitated lunch hen; a rooster pecks nervously at a tripod. Amidst the bustle of work, the crew is happily oblivious to this background action, and to the scent of blood, feces and fermented food that stings the air. 

Despite the squalor, there's an optimism in La Merced that seems to push out from the darkened alleyways and narc dens to embrace the bright December sky. Since it's a place where families live, balconies are fringed with marigolds and parakeet cages. A circus clown ambles past – a refugee from a city festival the night before. Next door to the film location, a boy places flowers at a makeshift shrine to Saint Guadeloupe, as if to bless the production. 

"Everyone tried to warn us away from shooting here,” reports Heller, "but we dug in our heels. And in the end, we were so right.” 

Adds Kreuzpaintner, "The colors and smells of La Merced, the dogs and chickens and wall drawings and all the rhythms of the street – you cannot recreate this, and it would be wrong to try. Everyone is affected by this place, and our idea is that everyone will absorb and reflect this feeling.” 

The director seems to soak up that spirit as he rehearses the stash house scene in a tenement loft, bobbing up from his chair to hug his two actresses before the cameras roll. The room is dressed with two stained cots, a couple of bird cages and a few framed paintings of Jesus. 

In a scene before this one, sex trafficker Vadim has ripped up the photo of Veronica's daughter in a brutal warning to the young mother. Now, when the

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