There’s, sadly, a world of difference between the new film of Lucrecia Martel and the rest of the nominees to best picture at the Platinos (that is, ‘The Bookshop’ (2017) unseen, but I doubt it’ll come close to this at all), and there’s more than a universe from this particular film and the current state of Latin American Cinema, and it’s not a matter of budget, but one of visión and direction, an anxiousness to tell stories with images that go beyond the pure repetition of the breath of history of film, but to expand it both in audio and image, to try to divert from the normal path that these stories seem to follow, both in storytelling, visual composition and conceptualization.
‘Zama’ is about Don Diego de Zama and his constant urge to be away from the place that he is in. This is the time of the colony, when Spain ruled over most of South America and the governors and those in power were those who travelled weeks on boats from the Mother Country, to find glory and be part of the Empire, but this is the story of someone who’s had enough and wants to go back to his family, but there’s more to that in his wants (lack of women is easily one of the reasons -to not say simply horniness- as well as boredom and overall the sensation that you’re stuck with what you get and can’t advance beyond that), but at the same time there’s not much that he can do but wait, and so we wait alongside him.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s a dull film, quite the contrary, as it’s filled with events, happenings, dialogues and strange things that occur from time to time as if to render this particular film as a mind experience, even if it works as a period piece, it’s not as interested in the landscapes, the costumes or the detail of how loyal it can be, but it’s more interested in the interior despair of Zama and how he desperately tries to get what he wants. For an hour this film works more as a comedy of errors, where everything piles up against the protagonist and just nothing seems to work, he gets moved around, betrayed and hurt; but it all makes sense into this world where everything seems to move at the pace of molasses.
But the last third presents a twist and it turns into something closer to a horror film, one that explores the horrors of colonization as well as the unknown. In some ways I was reminded to ‘The Lost City of Z’ (2016) and what James Gray wanted to achieve, but failed because he was obsessed with making his film “important”, “relevant” and “contemporary”. Martel isn’t worried about that and she knows that her style is novel enough for it to speak by itself, as she just went and filmed what’s inside all of us when we’re at our lowest, asking for mercy. The silence of Zama in the final scenes says it all: everyone has their limit, and everyone at some moment is tired of even screaming.
The 5 movies of Platino ranked in order of preference:
- Zama (2017)
- Estiu 1993 (2017)
- Una mujer fantástica (2017)
- La Cordillera (2017)
- Últimos días en La Habana (2016)