Horror and despair hover just out of the frame, or below the surface, or behind the curtain, of Lucrecia Martel’s mysterious and dreamlike movie Zama. It’s a film that returns Martel to her themes of guilt, sex and shame – her first picture, in fact, since the enigmatic The Headless Woman 10 years ago. But Zama, with its eerie andante tempo and period setting, gives her ideas a new exalted platform, a new theatrical and formal grandeur.
It’s the story of Diego De Zama, a 16th-century administrator in the service of imperial Spain, whose courageous exploits in battle long ago won him a sinecure as a magistrate in the brutally remote outpost of what is now Asunción, on the Paraguay River. But now he waits endlessly, frantically, desperately for news of the more glamorous and prestigious posting he once assumed would quickly follow and that would reunite him with his wife and children, left behind years before in Buenos Aires.
Zama - Daniel - Giménez - Cacho - Hauteur
Zama is played by Daniel Giménez Cacho with a perplexed hauteur, like a caged eagle. He is utterly alone, with a mediocre stipend, and nothing to do but cultivate a gloomy sexual fascination with the local women and capricious white aristocratic ladies of his own circle; his sexual brooding is a kind of anaesthetic for the panic that would otherwise overwhelm him. Zama must also participate – jadedly, diffidently – in the official duties of state violence and racism: enforcing the enslavement of the indigenous peoples. As an americano, that is someone born in the Americas and not Spain, Zama suspects that he himself is regarded as a second-rater in the colonial service. Is this why he has been forgotten, left behind in this burning swamp? He doesn’t know, and has no way of finding out.
It’s a waking nightmare that is part...
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