Argentinian director Lucretia Martel was one of the most exciting filmmakers in the world when she completed “The Headless Woman,” her fascinating 2008 character study about a dazed woman recovering (and not recovering) from a car crash. Then, Martel dropped off the map, reportedly due to a debilitating illness that deprived the film community of a first-rate talent. She apparently recovered, and it’s especially heartening to head into the fall season with a new Martel film in the cards.
Set to premiere in Venice and also play at TIFF and NYFF, “Zama” is a sweeping period piece years in the making. Adapted from Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 novel, the movie focuses on Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), a government clerk stuck in Paraguay, estranged from his family and keen on getting transferred to Bueno Aires. With time, he grows increasingly violent and frustrated with his surroundings, lashing out at lower-class servants and clashing with the bureaucratic forces around him. The trailer pitches this conundrum as a blend of psychological horror and dark comedy — the kind of ambitious gamble that Martel is well-positioned to tackle — in addition to gorgeous imagery that brings its complex setting to life.
As TIFF programmer Diana Sanchez points out in program notes for the festival, the movie echoes many of the colonialist themes found in other recent Latin American films, including “Jauja” and “Embrace of the Serpent,” two modern masterpieces from visionary filmmakers. If this first look is any indication, “Zama” has all the makings of a third one (the producing credits for Pedro Almodovar and Danny Glover don’t hurt, either). The film is currently seeking distribution. Watch the trailer below.