Zama Screen 97 of 16 reviews

Zama

2017

Zama Poster
  • Martel’s remarks about patience are fitting given that Zama is, among other things, a film about time, and specifically the ways that subjective experience challenges the banal measurements of the clock that we so often use to mark its passing. Zama demands that its viewer give up on waiting for meaningful events and narrative advancement. In their place, an immersion in textures, sounds and affects comes to dominate.

  • Though di Benedetto’s comic figuration of Don Diego de Zama’s miserable psyche—an infernal loop of self-consciousness in which his wild expectations concerning the thoughts of others concerning himself inevitably lead to humiliation, which he handles with reliable wit before it all begins again—is basically unfilmable, Martel has found a variety of clever ways to render its disorienting textures, as mental and physical spaces mingle subtly.

  • Lucrecia Martel, an unexpected and perfect match for the material, renders the novel into beguiling chops and chunks. Through her thrillingly democratic eye, the officials and their servants—and the servants’ servants, and the children of the servants, and the animals attending to the children—roam through backgrounds and foregrounds, attending to some unexplained duty

  • The movie's uncanny visual humor is reminiscent of Miguel Gomes's Tabu and João Pedro Rodrigues's The Ornithologist, which are also shot by Poças and approach the legacy of colonialism from a strange angle. What distinguishes Martel's film from those others is how bluntly its comedy informs its politics.

  • Martel develops a cinematic style... that fits the subject with a singular precision. The relentless plotting of potentates and labors of servants and slaves fill the onscreen space with a seemingly combustible tension—and then long-stifled violence surges to the fore. Few films convey such amplitude so sparely; it’s a two-hour film that feels like it’s twice that length, not in sitting-time but in narrative scope and dramatic detail.

  • That the method of Zama’s conveyance sends him drifting into the unknown, rather than toward any sort of known earthly reward, can be taken for profundity or a punchline. Either way, the tender surrender of the trajectory feels just right. In the end, Zama is reduced (or redeemed) as a sightseer, and so are we—and to see through the eyes of Lucrecia Martel is to submit to truly lucid dreaming.

  • It unfolds like a sunburned, sweat-soaked fever dream... There's a sense that even the movie itself, which emerged after a reportedly tumultuous production period, is perched on some divide between actuality and non-being. That's a tricky line—one that Martel walks, in spite of any extra-textual obstacles, with supreme confidence throughout.

  • Undoubtedly different from the rest of Martel's highly idiosyncratic filmography, Zama is nevertheless every inch a Martel film. Not only is it the work of a master, with each and every cut and framing so perfect as to feel somehow holy writ. It is a droning symphony of waiting, a study in suspension. And, like The Headless Woman, Zama is centered on a protagonist whose sense of entitlement is so great that not only is it his undoing. It becomes virtually indistinguishable from mental illness.

  • And finally, all praise to Venice for showing Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, just as humidly mysterious and concentrated as you’ll have heard. My colleague Jose Teodoro takes you down that river in our September/October print issue, but suffice to say that Martel, following our titular Spanish imperial functionary off the deep end with as fine a literary adaptation as has been seen in years, has lost none of her capacity for the fear and wonder of cinema.

  • Time is brought to a standstill, then it’s as if whole years have passed. Backgrounds are enhanced with out-of-focus parasols, doors held ajar to reveal distant activity, and..., a llama will poke its head into a scene. In the middle of all this is Zama himself, his stateliness dissolving equally in cramped interiors and sweeping landscapes. It’s a fitting paradox here that the film that most feels like a dream is also the one that most makes me feel wide awake.

  • “Zama” and “I Love You, Daddy” are two of the best movies I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival, which ends Sunday, and they could not be more different or more unwittingly in sync... Beautiful, hypnotic, mysterious and elliptical, “Zama” is a story about a man at odds with a world that he struggles to dominate, which becomes a lacerating, often surprisingly comic evisceration of colonialism and patriarchy.

  • As the credits faded, David [Bordwell] asked, “Have we just seen a masterpiece?” Neither of us doubted that we had, and we suspected that we had also watched the best film we would see during the entire festival... One extraordinary moment which I cannot resist mentioning comes late in the film when a horse in the foreground of a scene turns and looks directly into the lens (top of this section). Its stare is even more enigmatic than Zama’s face, just another little mystery that Martel provides.

  • ++

    Film Comment: José Teodoro
    September 03, 2017 | September/October 2017 Issue (pp. 44-49)

    Whatever special energy might be lost in transposing Di Benedetto's prose onto the screen is eclipsed, above all, by Martel's use of the cinematic apparatus over which her mastery is nearly unparalleled. Guido Berenblum is credited as sound designer on all four of Martel's features; their ongoing collaboration is arguably the most important in Martel's cinema.

  • It was apparently a nightmare to complete, and an extremely welcome addition to this festival. And yet it’s a tough film to fully digest in the context of a festival... There are times when the movie, with its recurrences and recycling of actors and floating visual motifs feels like “The Saragossa Manuscript” had the actual premise of its nesting-storylines device never been explicitly revealed. That’s not quite it, but it’s as close as I’m going to get after one viewing at the end of the day.

  • Devoid of a narrative arc or sense of progress with regards to Zama’s chief goal (to get promoted), temporal placement becomes nearly impossible to gauge. Outside of time, in the realm of the senses, experience approaches a state much closer to madness—its means less evident, its effects more visceral. It’s convenient, then, that di Benedetto’s structure grants Martel the opportunity to save her most affecting and barbarous blows for the end.

  • Martel's certainty is slightly terrifying, concealing this enigmatic film’s meaning within a rock-dense, borderline impregnable shell of stunning, disturbing imagery, opaque dissociated dialogue and a pessimistic view of human nature that runs so deep it’s a soul sickness... “Zama” is a difficult film. But if you find a way to crack open its forbidding, austere exterior, there is treasure to be found, or at least something that sparkles, beautiful and cruel, like the spiky insides of a geode.

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