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Directed by Lucrecia Martel

Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Dominican Republic, France, Netherlands, Mexico, Switzerland, United States, Portugal, Lebanon 2017 115 mins. In Spanish with English subtitles

Appearing on myriad best-of-2018 lists and nearly ten years in the making, Martel’s fourth feature is an adaptation of Antonio di Benedetto’s legendarily un-adaptable 1956 novel of the same name. Zama concerns Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a mid-level Spanish bureaucrat in 18th-century colonial Paraguay. Stationed at a remote outpost where nothing really happens, Zama longs for a transfer to Lerma, Argentina, but, caught up in a piercingly bureaucratic hell, instead is pushed farther afield into remote jungles with little hope of breaking free. Crossing paths with rogue criminals that freely roam the terrain, including the nefarious Vicuña Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele) whose reputation is perhaps oversized, our hero is increasingly sucked into a world of deception and violence in which he’s unable to regain bearing. Says Martel: “I identify with Zama completely. Because the experience of failure is easy to understand. Because we’re always so exposed to everything that is supposed to happen: youth, beauty, great sex, makeup, clothing. We’re filled with advertisements permanently setting the bar for where we have to get, no? We’re extremely aware of what we can’t accomplish. We’re always seeing things that won’t happen to us. And in that sense it’s very easy to identify with Zama. In general, I prefer imperfect, weak, almost bad characters because I feel that there is much more humanity there than in heroes. Good people—good people strike me as the worst in the world.”