Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA, 2020. Yellow Bear Films, Rathaus Films. Screenplay by Tim Sutton. Cinematography by Lucas Gath. Produced by Madeleine Askwith, Alexandra Byer, Andrew Morrison. Music by Phil Mossman. Production Design by Alan Lampert. Costume Design by Lizzie Donelan. Film Editing by Kate Abernathy.
Zama (Dela Meskienyar) lives with her aunt and uncle and it is not a happy arrangement, she never tells them where she wanders off to and she walks the streets without her niqab on and only puts it on before coming into their house. Saul (Cosmo Jarvis) lives with his grandparents (Dan Hedaya, Rhea Perlman) who are stressed out that a slick real estate tycoon (Jonny Lee Miller) is forcing them out of their Coney Island neighbourhood because he plans to build luxury condos where their old house now stands. An awkward encounter brings these two young people together when she tries to steal a snack from a convenience store and he gets her out of trouble, she keeping her niqab on as they then spend some time getting to know each other. Over the next few days they bumble about the neighbourhood, grabbing some meals, exploring empty apartment buildings, shopping for a new scarf (she decides to go in for a hijab instead of her usual covering), and even stealing a car. They don’t say much to each other about their private lives but have a wordless understanding that is threatened when it becomes clear to Zama that Saul has dark plans for getting revenge on Miller for ruining his home life. Conceptually, this film doesn’t have much to offer that feels fresh or original, the idea of greedy suits destroying the charm of New York City is nothing new and director Tim Sutton doesn’t seem to realize that we don’t need to see Miller portrayed as a human character when he’s already a familiar and easily understood theme (even if it does provide for a great scene between him and Victor Garber in a marvelous cameo as his dad). The main characters, a soft-spoken young woman beaten down by life and a man who can’t contain his frustrations, is a template straight out of Rocky, but what makes the film special is its execution: Sutton films everything with a stunning visual palette that favours shadowy figures against neon backdrops, turning what could be a dull and grey borough into a magnificent maze of dazzling images that feel heightened but never artificial, and the pleasure of watching this movie is waiting for the next fascinating composition to arrive.