Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. Argentina/Spain/France/Netherlands/USA/Brazil/Mexico/Portugal/Lebanon/Switzerland, 2017. Bananeira Filmes, CNC, Canana, El Deseo, Institut Francais, Instituto de la Cinematografia y de las Artes Audiovisuales, Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales, KNM, L’Aide aux Cinemas du Monde, Lemming Film, Louverture Films, MPM Film, Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres et du Developpement International, Netherland Filmfund, O Som e a Furia,Patagonik Film Group, Picnic Productions, Programa Ibermedia, Rei Cine, Shortcuts International. Screenplay by Lucrecia Martel, based on the novel by Antonio Di Benedetto. Cinematography by Rui Pocas. Produced by Vania Catani, Benjamin Domenech, Santiago Gallelli. Music by Gustavo Montenegro. Production Design by Renata Pinheiro. Costume Design by Julio Suarez. Film Editing by Karen Harley. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
Lucrecia Martel’s long awaited follow up to The Headless Woman takes her deep into period film territory, but without the kind of comforting plushness that this would suggest. Daniel Giménez Cacho is excellent as a colonial functionary in a forgotten South American corner of the Spanish empire, whose main goal is to get transferred away from the heat and hopelessness of his coastal town and go back to a place he knows. Constantly promised by those above him that they will send a letter to the king to grant his wish, Zama spends his days watching the place rot, visiting his indigenous lover with whom he has had a son or conflicting with other colonials. Smoothly directed and shocking in its poignancy, Martel emphasizes a sense of languidness that doesn’t have the level of mystery of her previous films but is soulful and contemplative, particularly since Gimenez Cacho is astoundingly good at emoting in stillness. Lola Duenas is terrific as the wife of a local bigwig who deals with the boredom of her surroundings by engendering sexual attention from the men around her that she sometimes returns. Then there is the film’s conclusion, when Cacho manages to join a group of men who are in search of a famed brigand wanted by the law, and the intensity that has been quietly boiling up until this point explodes in an expertly directed sequence rife with unforgettable imagery. Moody photography and some unforgettable images of a time that really feels authentic are great rewards for whom this one’s narrative sparseness will be difficult to digest.