Country: Argentina, Brazil, Spain, France
Director/Writer: Lucrecia Martel
based on the eponymous novel by Antonio Di Benedetto
Cinematography: Rui Poças
Daniel Giménez Cacho
Germán de Silva
Lucrecia Martel’s long-awaited fourth feature ZAMA is a period drama about the downfall of a Spanish empire functionary in the end of 18th century, her first attempt of visualizing a story from a literature source, Antonio Di Benedetto’s eponymous existential novel.
Don Diego de Zama (Giménez Cacho, bringing about a gravely intense concretion of mental exertion and physical resignation) is a Spanish magistrate in a South American colony, who is so cocksure that soon he will be transferred to Lerma and reunited with his wife and children, he barely conceals his peremptoriness, in time it will escalate into a brawl with his subordinate Ventura Prieto (Minujín), ironically, in the aftermath, it is the latter would be immediately reassigned to Lerma, and Diego’s transfer plea continues to be bogged down in the red tapes and the perverse obstruction of a new governor.
In a post-colonial epoch, it has become a wonted bent for us to cogitate on the world’s colonial past with a sober sensibility of censure and contrition, Martel follows suit, effectually extends her uniquely elliptical story-telling methodology into anatomizing Zama’s quotidian absurdity and displacement, often heightens her unorthodox compositions (notably for her astute attention of the negative space) and leaves the spotlight right off the camera, the effect aims for a less direct impact upon viewers and allots us time to ruminate on these moments’ often mystifying undertow, most prominently, the incommunicability between two disparate civilizations and the unuttered defiance of the local slaves and indigenous tribes.
This approach becomes a magical antidote to the spoon-feeding narratology, viewers tend to be more concentrated on the less specified happenings and discernible to the particulars (not least a llama swanning in the background in one close-up shot), what is more extraordinary, Martel knows the proprieties, she never pushes the limits to the extent as a deliberate provocateur and expeditiously cuts away from dramatic sequences, then affixes them with what happens after in total composure, also, acute auditory hallucinations are dexterously integrated to elicit an uncanny feeling that complies with the otherness percolating through Zama’s increasingly disoriented sensoria, he sees ghost, hears other people’s thoughts and loses his bearings?
Martel cogently substantiates that is a lose-lose situation for both the colonizers and the subjugated natives, a deep-seated defeatism permeates the whole film an attains its crescendo in the phantasmagoric third act, when a disenchanted Zama joins a ragtag group of bounty hunters trying to capture a mythologized figure Vicuña Porto, only finds out that after their delirious baptism of fire, Vicuña might or might not be right among them, a coup de maître of cinematic metafiction about self-delusion and nihilism.
To all intents and purposes, ZAMA bewitchingly reassures us Martel is a sui generis taste-maker in today’s cinema-scape, an acquired taste, maybe, but once you are onboard, there will be elation aplenty.