The Argentine auteur Lucrecia Martel’s first narrative film in nine years, Zama is a warped portrait of colonial power left to rot in the sun, a feverishly funny and surreal experience that mostly turns its nose up at narrative.
The film is set in the late 18th century; [Diego de] Zama is the corregidor (colonial administrator) of some distant province […], but he craves a more splendid post. Every attempt to move away runs into procedural and bureaucratic bulwarks; travelers come from more prosperous, far-off places the viewer never sees. Zama is trapped, and as the film progresses his little fiefdom devolves further into disrepair.
Martel’s movie benefits from not feeling lavish; for all the lush period details there’s nothing aspirational about the life depicted in Zama (a common trap for any satire about life atop a colonial empire). The film is too disorienting and queasy for that.
Martel has never made a film quite this strange, but she’s always been an opaque storyteller. Zama, much like her other works […], burrowed into my brain after I’d seen it. There’s absolutely nothing else like it […]. Zama is a viewing experience that […] blooms in bold, surprising directions.
David Sims, The Atlantic