By Mónica Delgado

The frame that illustrates this text, that is also the first to appear in the film, reveals Zama’s nature in itself, the character on Antonio di Benedetto’s novel, a character Lucrecia Martel adopts, transforms to cinema and returns it from its most visceral side, like an entity thrown away into the world and forever stopped in this liminal state, in the edge, the border, the shore.

In some moment of the film’s opening, the peculiarity of a fish of those places is narrated, a peculiarity that consists of an inherent resistance towards its constant expelling from the sea, that makes it live constantly in the shores, insisting and surviving. And the analogy is evident, and it’s what we see through the film: the materiality of that comparison, once and again, through different facts that affirm Zama as a being between two worlds, without much will to affirm himself in that environment.

It’s the first time that Lucrecia Martel stops with so much detail and ambition on the figure of a masculine character. Unlike her previous work, where the feminine universe is explored from different female lead characters that discover and resist, in Zama, Martel looks from new forms inside some motifs of historical cinema, bur from the gaze and sensibility of a mayor unable to change his state. But is Zama an historical film? More than just translating a determinate context, what the film achieves is to abstract any glimpse of historic fidelity, creating a peculiar environment, imagining a Spanish colony in Paraguay, at the end of the XVIII century.

Free from any indication of political correction, in Zama’s colonial world, slavery looks like an accessory, as part of the decoration, where mullatos look like human fans, cargo beasts of naked messengers. It’s a place of llamas and stables where eroticized social celebrations take place; or where the women with absurd wigs can be seen as ways of escape and illusion, but never important to the ends of the lead character. However, there’s a background in Zama that makes that women, slaves, animals, social fads, all look alive but ghostly at the same time, because all the atmosphere, ambiance, narrative shifts, confirm that we’re not against a historical document but before the sublimation of a time that maybe never existed, or shouldn’t have existed.

Martel describes a man living in the border. Zama (a wonderful Daniel Jimenez Cacho) is in every moment submitted to the will of the rest; he always looks resigned, with his emotions underground, only reflected in overprints or language games that Martel uses carefully. There’s nothing that depends on Zama himself, maybe just the daydreaming with Martel coats him in different scenes.

As part of these narrative fugues, the film offers with sinuosity animal allegories or bestiaries in an exquisite way (birds, horses, llamas), not only as undaunted observers but as a reflection of the instinctive nature that seems to rule. In other side, Martel also achieves to sensualize the female voluptuousness through the sweating, flirtations, looks, that make Zama vibrate for moments, in a fever, as symptoms of humanity that seem repressed or far away.

Presented inside the Gala section of the Valdivia International Film Festival, Lucrecia Martel’s Zama is a new film inside the body of work by the filmmaker, but even more, it is the work of a different Martel, who goes for a sensitive approach on the possibility of a cruel and inscrutable past, irreproducible in its literality, with a brilliant and mature proposal, that affirms a new style, with a great sound work (as an out of field that floods the image with savage fauna in constant boiling). A film full of light about an obscure period, of barbarians and rarefied atmospheres.

Director: Lucrecia Martel
Script: Lucrecia Martel, adapted from a novel by Antonio di Benedetto
Cinematography: Rui Poças
Cast: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Matheus Nachtergaele, Juan Minujín, Lola Dueñas,Rafael Spregelburd, Daniel Veronese, Vando Villamil
Producer: Coproducción Argentina-España-Francia-México-Brasil-Estados Unidos-Países Bajos (Holanda); Rei Cine / El Deseo S.A / Canana / MPM Films / Bananeira / Louvertura / Nederlands Filmfonds, 2017.