Argentinian maestro Lucrecia Martel returns with period film Zama in which she creates a vivid world that's both sensuous and unbearable
Don Diego de Zama (Cacho), the titular protagonist of Lucrecia Martel’s first film in nine years, stands at the shore, looking out at the horizon, one hand on his sword. It’s a striking pose of a hero that is immediately undercut by the next scene. Coming across a group of bathing Indigenous women, Zama attempts to spy on them but this peeping Tom is soon chased away by shouts of “voyeur!” The ridiculous and pompous self-importance of heroes, mixed with surreal and slapstick humour, is the essence of Zama.
Martel doesn’t reveal the specific time and place in which her film is unfolding; the period setting suggests an 18th century Spanish colonial town in some far-flung South American province. Zama is one of the town’s magistrates but any sense of authority is foiled by his own inflated ego. He’s a bad-tempered lost soul, pining to be released from his duties and get home to his wife and children. Bearing 'the white man’s burden,' Zama is a satirical figure of colonialism, who's continuously bested by Kafkaesque red-tape bureaucracy. Repeated requests for transfers and meetings with his superiors go nowhere as Zama gradually realises that he’s never going to get across the sea. He and his band of colonisers have become trapped in a prison of their own making.
Zama is a strange and, at times, frustratingly inaccessible film to watch. Nothing yet everything happens in a series of surreal and very funny vignettes that create a portrait of a man trapped in a claustrophobic and grim settlement. With lush period detail and exquisite compositions, Martel masterfully creates a vivid, sensuous, and unbearable world from which Zama and the audience can’t wait to escape. Yet we also can’t seem to take our eyes off it. [Katie Goh]
Released by New Wave Films