- Review by Dara McWade
Lucrecia Martel’s Zama is about a depressed, isolated man on the edge of the colonial world looking for a sign of hope. The filmmaker herself seemed to have experienced a similarly long journey over this production, clinging to dozens of different national funds, the list of producers takes up nearly half the credits, and yet, unlike the protagonist of her existential nightmare, she succeeded. Zama, based on a 1951 novel by Antonio di Benedetto, is an anti-colonial screed, promising nothing but unhappiness and unbearable heat to those unfortunate enough to be on the colonising forces. There are no treasures to be found, only disease, death and worthless jewels the colonials name “coconuts”.
Not that there isn’t humour to be found - the often surreal satire of the film takes careful effort to drive home how much the universe seems to hate Don Diego de Zama, our lead. As played by Daniel Giménez Cacho, corregidor Zama’s moral and physical fall is both tragic, and pathetic. He leers over women in the first act, deals with a loss of respect in the second and finally loses the remnant of his pride in the third. Yet, he survives each episodic encounter, worse for wear sure, but his eyes still filled with wild energy, even as he watches his masculinity burn. Zama runs the day-to-day of a Spanish colony in a remote part of South America. He works tirelessly under a governor, and his career, and therefore life, lies entirely with their decisions. He looks elsewhere for both excitement and for things that will get him home, for people who can bring him home. His hopeless quest to return home continues, on and on.
Zama is hypnotically paced, with scenes swinging around the film like a clock, repeating incidents and scenarios at different intervals, creating rhythm and irrationality. The camera frames it's characters from the forehead down, mimicking the perspective of one whose head is hung low by exhaustion. We can't understand the often surreal world around Zama, and neither can he as it's just too disorientating and hot. The environment plays with his mind and body; a land his people do not understand, or are welcome to. It's a different take on the anti-colonial film. Instead of focusing on the suffering of the indigenous people, it details the confusing toll it has on those away from home: the coloniser. All the corregidor wants is to just go home and he clings to this dream with a passionate fervour, even as his chances fall away, one by one.