Zama [2017 Lucrecia Martel Film] Review

Zama DVD
AKA: Zama, Zama (2017 remake)
Genre: Historical Drama
Year Released: 2017
Distributor: Strand Releasing

Origin: Argentina
Running Time: 115 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: R

Related Films/Series: Zama (1984)
For Fans Of: The Mission, The Phantom Lady, Our Land of Peace, Almafuerte
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:
-Zama was directed by Lucrecia Martel. She has also worked on films such as La Cienaga, The Holy Girl, and The Headless Woman. Also, she considers the Oscars to be a joke, interestingly enough.

-I can’t believe I’m repeating a fun fact that also tied into Chico and Rita, but this also applies here. Guess who distributed Zama, a film with nudity, sexual assault implications, bloodshed, and even colonialism in this film’s native Argentina? Disney. I wish I was making this up. Dang, the House of Mouse must really love distributing adult-oriented films in other countries without resorting to Hollywood Pictures or Miramax back when they owned that company.

-The title character is played by Spanish actor Daniel Gimenez Cacho. You might know him from other films such as Get the Gringo, The Summit, and Bad Education.

-Zama is based on a book of the same name by Antonio di Benedetto back in 1956. In Argentina, it’s considered to be classic literature and it was first adapted into film back in 1984 (see Related Films/Series list), and it was translated into English in 2016.


Reviewing films blind can certainly be a task in itself. There’s usually a fifty-fifty split that happens when taking on various films that I know nothing about. One reason why I decided to watch a certain Argentinean period piece wasn’t because I knew anything about the movie or anyone who made it. To be honest, the reasoning is far more minuscule. I looked at my alphabetized list and realized that I had no reviews involving movies or series beginning with the letter X or Z. I’m sorry, but I want to have representation with all these letters to that list doesn’t look empty.

I guess there was some critically-acclaimed film that was able to fill that quota right here at Iridium Eye central.

Zama takes place in late eighteenth century Paraguay long before it gained independence from Spain. The title character in question is Don Diego de Zama who is a magistrate who works for the Spanish crown. He’s sulking with his current assignment and wants to be transferred to Lerma, Argentina. Diego is a respected individual, but his situation slowly erodes as there is a serial rapist running around named Vicuna Porto who’s been assaulting various people in town. Besides that, there’s sketchy things going on with the Spanish crown bureaucracy and with some of the wealthy aristocrats living it up in nice houses while having slaves to serve them at their every whim. He’s also estranged from his family and would like to reunite with them at some point. Diego is trying to improve his job situation because of his desire to be transferred with the permission of the governor and the King of Spain himself, but his attempts become quite troublesome each time.

I wasn’t familiar with the works of Lucrecia Martel, but I will say she does a good job when it comes to some of the cinematography and some storytelling elements. The visuals worked well with some of the rustic colors in the rural sections or fields of pure green once Diego goes outside of the Paraguayan city he was stationed. The set design and costumes certainly looked accurate to the time period. Granted, it was weird seeing all these people with the blonde wigs despite having much darker hair, but I understand that it was a fashion statement that was an extension of Europe and even America during that time period. I will say certain storytelling aspects were a bit unorthodox, yet still effective. The original novel is more of an existential work, and I can see the elements translate to film. The film goes for a period of a couple of decades, but it feels seamless without needing titles or any kind of exposition, so the scenery and slight aging of the characters (Diego’s beard was the most obvious in the final act) made those subtle nuances work. Zama certainly looks like a beautiful film and one can take it seriously given the subject matter.

Zama certainly has the visuals down pat and there’s a clear cut story, but there’s one question I just HAVE to ask after watching this film.

“Am I the only person who didn’t think Zama was so great?”

Ooh, boy. I expect to have tables flipped from international film buffs, but I’ve dealt with far more controversial works. Let’s start with the first major red flag of this film that I couldn’t stand: How colonialism was portrayed. I don’t expect anyone to spoon feed me the information , but the presentation of it being just a normal thing instead of something bad was sickening to me. You have multiple characters having African slaves around where most of them don’t even talk with the exception of a messenger who wears a wig, jacket, and a thong with a voice so effeminate he makes Young Thug and The Velveteen Dream look macho by comparison. There’s even the issue with the indigenous people who are treated like garbage and how some constituents beg Diego to eliminate them. This was almost Pocahontas (yes, the Disney version) level of bad representation of the indigenous people and White denial. I understand that slavery and displacement happened in real life, but the film comes off as glorifying it instead of condemning those heinous practiced. While the existential aspects made this film somewhat interesting, I thought so many subplots got dropped like the prophecy, Malemba’s situation, or Diego’s situation with his family. Yes, they touch on it a bit later on and I won’t spoil it, but that should’ve had more emphasis in the film in my opinion. Also, Zama gets quite tedious in multiple parts. I can handle dead serious historical films, but I’ve seen ones with much better characterization and storytelling than this.

Zama was an entirely overrated film which says a lot about so many critics, but I’ll spare you a rant about my thoughts on the situation. The visual production certainly worked with the imagery, lighting, and set design. The more free flowing narrative certainly was an original take for a period piece which I didn’t mind. What is beyond me is the apathetic portrayal of colonizing things which was intellectually insulting when it came to the treatment of the Black and Native background characters in 2017, but I guess with all the craziness going on with offensive Gucci sweaters, Prada accessories, or people claiming to be Native American when they’re not, then I’m not surprised. I was more bored than anything when it came to Zama and it’s another example of a well-received film that I don’t care about.


Adjustable Point System:

Add 1-3 points if you like historical fiction.
Subtract 1 point if you can’t stand colonialism not featured as a bad thing.



Pros:

-Great cinematography
-Existential and atypical narratives
-Decent soundtrack

Cons:
-Unfortunate colonization implications
-Tedious for stretches of time
-Dropped subplots

Final Score: 2/10 points

Content Warning: Zama is a movie that would be best for older audiences assuming if they won’t be bored. There’s talk about sexual assault and the fight scenes get extremely violent. Some people get tortured like an indigenous boy at the hands of Spanish crown politicians and the governor has the severed ears of a criminal that he wears like a medal on his chest. While avoiding a spoiler, there’s a case of infidelity with Diego since he’s not married, but he has a son with another women that has very questionable circumstances.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Zama is property of Lucrecia Martel and Strand Releasing. The DVD cover is from Amazon and is property of Strand Releasing.

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