Zama (2017)

Image courtesy of: Rei Cine

by Igor Salutregi Gabiola

And the question is: how can a literature work be adapted into a film? This question was born almost at the same time Cinema was, few more than hundred years ago. One of the authors that studied this kind of adaptation was Helmut Kreuzer. According to this German, there are four kinds of adaptations: one where the characters, the plot and other elements of a literature work is the base of the cinema story; another one where the film can turn into a theatrical staging of the literature-source; it also can be an interpretation of the new author, or can just be a simple source of inspiration. What the acclaimed Lucrecia Martel achieves here with her new Zama, which production ended lasting five years, is just disturbing and beautiful at the same time. Just a thing that is hard to be explained with words.

Zama is a work about waiting, about a Spanish official called Diego de Zama who, under the sun of the XVII century´s Uruguay, waits to be transferred to Buenos Aires; a transfer that never comes. Far from his wife and kids, he finds himself almost forced to accept any kind of job so that he can have more chances to get the permission of the King that allows him to leave. Benedetti put these words into the mouth of his main character: “I asked myself not why I lived, but why I have lived. I supposed that it was because of the waiting, and I wanted to know if there was something else waiting for me. I thought it was like that”. Years pass, and the arrival of good news seems to be the most far ever. And Zama waits. And waits. And waits.

So, why did Lucrecia Martel chose a book like that, which was not even considered a common narrative novel? And what’s more, how put a story like this into images? The Argentinian filmmaker shows all her talents, and using static-shots where the frame is never clear and making the off-screen more important than the image itself, creates a really claustrophobic environment, where the protagonist seems to be asphyxiating. Thus, the reactions of the official Zama have a huge presence in the entire film, making the audience to be part of his agony. But not everything is so serious; the film is also oneiric and even absurd. For example, in one of the most funny and irrational scenes, the Governor communicates to Zama that the lover of the girl that he desires has achieved his transfer. Zama gets bewildered, while a llama wanders around the Governor´s office, putting his face next to the Zama´s one. And the fact is that the more forward we go in the movie, the more absurd everything turns in another scene. There is a horse that looks directly into the camera but the action also has its presence, when Zama decides to go after Vicuña Porto, a mysterious man about whom everybody talks. And this decision will be the point where Zama ends the “waiting” and makes a move that changes the tone of the film.

Since her first film, the awarded La Ciénaga (2001), Lucrecia Martel has made movies more related to sensorial issues than to strictly narrative conventions. This new movie has achieved the making of a visual and sensorial journey where it seems like she wanted to say that Cinema is running out of narration resources and now, perhaps, wants to sail off to new places like her main character.

Director: Lucrecia Martel
Writers: Antonio Di Benedetto (based on the novel by), Lucrecia Martel
Stars: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas, Matheus Nachtergaele
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