(director/writer: Lucrecia Martel; screenwriter: based on the novel by Antonio Di Benedetto; cinematographer: Rui Poças; editors: Miguel Schverdfinger, Karen Harley; cast: Daniel Giménez Cacho (Zama), Lola Dueñas (Luciana Piñares de Luenga), Matheus Nachtergaele (Vicuña Porto), Juan Minujín (Ventura Prieto), Rafael Spregelburd (Capitán Hipólito Parrilla), Nahuel Cano (Manuel Fernández), Rafael Spregelburd (Capitán Hipólito Parrilla), Daniel Veronese (Gobernador); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producers:Benjamin Domenech, Santiago Gallelli, Matías Roveda, Vania Catani; Strand Releasing ; 2017-Argentina–Brazil-Spain-France-Netherlands-Mexico-Portugal-U.S.-in Spanish with English subtitles)
“The film’s pleasures are its very funny bizarre scenes.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The first film in nine years (after “The Headless Woman”) for the great Argentinian auteur Lucrecia Martel (“The Holy Girl”), who mysteriously vanished during that period, It’s a chilling, elliptical and austere historical period thriller about an 18th century colonial nightmare. It’s set in a remote and backward 18th-century Spanish colony situated on the Asuncion coast (Paraguay). The 1956 novel Zama by Antonio di Benedetto is the basis for the haunting film about a man driven by the corrupt system to insanity. The searing and inventive human condition drama brings to its forsaken setting a taste for Beckettian absurdism and for Kafkaesque bureaucratic farce.Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Mexican actor), a lowly Spanish functionary, is the unhappy crown’s magistrate who cannot get the transfer he desires to a more desirable location where his wife and child reside in Lerma. He wishes to leave this backwater place, where beyond the settlement is the jungle and primitive masked warriors and a fabled notorious brigand named Vicuna (Matheus Nachtergaele). The poor man seems just as much lost in an hallucination as living a full life in the unpleasant colony. Constant menace, malaria, intense heat, settlers who go bonkers, and many governors who come and go, abound in this strange and sensual film. It’s set in a place where no one is stable nor can be trusted. The film’s pleasures are it’s very funny bizarre scenes. In one such odd scene Zama is called to meet the Governor inside his grandiose office and is informed that once again his request for a transfer is rejected. He’s also informed that a fellow functionary (Juan Minujin) he despises has been released instead to Lerma. He’s further humiliated when a llama clings to him, making him feel like one of the animals. This biting humiliation lets him get out of character to volunteer to join the soldiers searching in the jungle for the dangerous bandit. Through Zama’s predicament and mental breakdown, Martel brilliantly offers a priceless caustic rebuke of colonialism.
REVIEWED ON 3/9/2018 GRADE: A