Tolstoy had said, “The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless”. The arbitrary nature of existence and its possible meaninglessness formed the underlying tenet in Lucrecia Martel’s bleak, disorienting and fatalistic Zama – her first film in nearly a decade since the compellingly elliptic The Headless Woman. Ambitiously adapted from Antonio di Benedetto’s renowned novel, this fever dream of a movie was as both a scathing commentary and a dark meditation on one man’s descent into the collective lunacy of colonialism; hence, in that sense, and also in its narrative impulses, it reminded me of Herzog’s ferocious masterpiece Aguirre, the Wrath of God. The rippling opening sequence brilliantly introduced its eponymous protagonist (Daniel Giménez Cacho) – a magistrate with the Spanish colonial forces stationed in 18th century Asunción, and a complex mix of tragic grandeur, male ego, loneliness and primal impulses – who’s seen in his full uniform peeping at native women taking bath, but scampers in shame when spotted, only to thrash the one who boldly confronts him. As is revealed, he’s desperate to get transferred to Lerma where his wife and son live, and believes that’s imminent thanks to promises by pompous Governors. However, when all roads get closed, he embarks on a nightmarish journey to capture and kill a notorious bandit, only for it to end in devastation at the hands of an indigenous tribe wary of colonialist forces built on slavery. Cacho was spectacular as the increasingly rudderless Zama, while Lola Dueñas was good too as a wealthy seductress who cuckolds him. The moody visuals, elegiac score and leisurely narrative aptly complemented the powerful depiction of prejudices, exploitation and how violence begets violence.
Director: Lucrecia Martel
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Historical Epic