Despite having made only three films before this latest premiere at the venice Film Festival, argentine auteur Lucrecia Martel rose to something of a cult status internationally almost immediately after her debut feature, La Ciénaga (2002), which was only further established with The holy Girl (2004) and The headless Woman (2008).
To the despair and torment of her fanbase, however, Martel then went on a nine-year absence, a time during which many retrospectives of her work were screened in festivals and showcases around the world and just as many speculations kept the rumour mill working.
Putting an end to the wait is Zama, based on the novel of the same name by antonio Di Benedetto, which is set for a local release on september 28, following a tour of other festivals such as Toronto and New York.
Set in the late 18th century in colonial South America – it is not in Martel’s character to name the place and time specifically, although it can be guessed at rather realistically –, the film follows the tribulations of Don Diego de Zama, a local magistrate of the spanish crown who bides his time, stranded in a colonial outpost in the jungle of today’s Paraguay. Humid heat, bureaucracy and frustration eat at him as he awaits the royal favour of moving back to Lerma, where he has a wife and daughter. the slowly building, weariness-filled hell of Zama’s existence in this tropical forsaken place could find no better filmmaker than Martel, who joined forces with cinematographer rui Poças (Tabu, The Ornithologist) to deliver a unique, multi-layered piece of filmmaking.
Mexican actor Daniel Giménez cacho plays the dour-looking Zama who clings to the hope of a transfer back to civilization as he sees himself increasingly mired in this boiling hell, in his brocade waistcoat and tricorne hat, as the film slowly flows toward a vividly dramatic confrontation.
Many will be quick to draw a parallel between the title character’s long wait with Martel’s own extended process of making this film. It is only to be hoped that fans and critics will not have to wait another nine years for Martel’s next feature: she is too unexpectedly arresting a director for such a long wait. the slow-building, weariness-filled frustration will be on the side of the audience.