(Release Info London schedule; May 22nd, 2018, BFI Southbank)
In a remote South American colony in the late 18th century, officer Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) of the Spanish crown waits in vain for a transfer to a more prestigious location. He suffers small humiliations and petty politicking as he increasingly succumbs to lust and paranoia.
Zama, an officer of the Spanish Crown born in South America, waits for a letter from the King granting him a transfer from the town in which he's stagnating, to a better place. His situation is delicate. He must ensure that nothing overshadows his transfer. He's forced to accept submissively every task entrusted to him by successive Governors who come and go as he stays behind. The years go by and the letter from the King never arrives. When Zama notices everything is lost, he joins a party of soldiers that go after a dangerous bandit.
In the twilight of the 18th century, Zama is a minor cog in the Spanish rule of what's now Paraguay. He's stuck in a crumbling South American outpost of the Spanish colony, toiling away in a bureaucracy that treats him as invisible. Far from home and separated from loved ones, he's shunned by his fellow Europeans and unsettled by the.indigenous population. Unpaid for months and longing to reunite with his wife and child, he lives on the promise of a letter from the King that will transfer him to Buenos Aires, but as the years pass, frustration threatens his grip on reality. In the melancholy inspired by tropical heat, he nurses his loneliness and lust by courting the wife of a local aristocrat and contemplating the ennui of colonial pursuits. The film acutely observes the hopelessness of a colonial servant whose fevered fantasies threaten to drive him into an absurd free fall.
Lucrecia Martel ventures into the realm of historical fiction and makes the genre entirely her own in this adaptation of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 classic of Argentinean literature. In the late 18th century, in a far-flung corner of what seems to be Paraguay, the title character, an officer of the Spanish crown born in the Americas, waits in vain for a transfer to a more prestigious location. The film renders Zama’s world, his daily regimen of small humiliations and petty politicking, as both absurd and mysterious, and as he increasingly.succumbs to lust and paranoia, subject to a creeping disorientation. Precise yet dreamlike, and thick with atmosphere, Zama is a singular and intoxicating experience, a welcome return from one of contemporary cinema’s truly brilliant minds.
The film offers scenes from the life of Zama, who's awaiting a letter from the King granting him a transfer from the river town where he's stuck. But his situation is precarious and he's forced to accept submissively every task entrusted to him by successive Governors. When Zama realises all is lost, he joins a party of soldiers going after a dangerous bandit. Like other Western characters stranded in the tropics, Zama's identity is defined by a sense of belonging to, being connected to a notion of Europe, best remembered by those who were never there. Hundreds of years later, South America still faces the same issues of ownership, of land and race, of conqueror and subjugated, of dissatisfaction and fatalist fatigue. A beautifully crafted reflection on the catastrophe of colonialism.
"Zama" moves towards the past with the same irreverence we've when moving towards the future. Not trying to document pertinent utensils and facts, because Zama contains no historicist pretensions. But rather trying to submerge in a world that still today is vast, with animals, plants, and barely comprehensible women and men. A world that was devastated before it was ever encountered, and that therefore remains in delirium. The past in our continent is blurred and confused. We made it this way so we don’t think about the ownership of land, the spoils on which the Latin American abyss is founded, entangling the genesis of our own identity. As soon as we begin to peer into the past, we feel ashamed. Zama plunges deep into the time of mortal men, in this short existence that has been allowed to us, across which we slide anxious to love, trampling exactly that which could be loved, postponing the meaning of life as if the day that matters the most is the one that isn’t here yet, rather than today. And yet, the same world that seems determined to destroy us becomes our own salvation: when asked if we want to live more, we always say yes.