Zama, Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2017, 115'
Last year we dedicated one of our spotlight sessions to the Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, who came to Tabakalera to present her films and talk about her cinema and work. We were unable to screen Zama on that occasion given the film was still being screened in commercial cinemas. Hence, the spotlight focussed on her previous feature films and her first short films. With this new spotlight session on the concept of New Territories, we can finally round off our Lucrecia Martel retrospective.
Don Diego de Zama is a 17th-century Spanish official in Asunción awaiting transfer to Buenos Aires. The Kingdom of Spain and the promise of a golden future are now but a distant memory. Now, he must simply wait for something to happen while he tries to overcome the sense of distance and of being adrift which plague him so. What is there to hope for when you’ve lost everything? What is there to hope for when the land itself—not just geographically, but personally—has disappeared? Where can you go when you no longer have a place neither in the new world nor in the old?
Both the novel upon which Martel’s film is based (Zama, Antonio Di Benedetto, 1956) and Herzog's film (which opens this New Territories cycle) draw upon a strange image: a monkey's body, trapped in the whirlpools of a river. The image perhaps contains the essence of the hypothesis underpinning this film cycle: the defeat of progress and of conquest, and the need to transform this existentialist sorrow into a new adventure: new humanism, new forms, new territories.
“I headed downstream from the city, alone and awaiting the boat without knowing when it would come.
I reached the old docks, an inexplicable structure given the city and its port had always been where they were, a quarter of a league further up.
The river water swayed back and forth between the posts of the dock.
In its small wave and its whirlpools, a dead monkey, still whole and not decomposed, came and went with precision, without an exit. The water before the forest was always an invitation to travel, something which he did not do until he was no longer a monkey but the body of a monkey. The water wanted to carry him away and it did, but it tangled him up between the posts of the ancient dock, and there he was, heading away and remaining, and there we were.
There we were, heading away and remaining.”
Antonio Di Benedetto, Zama.