nathan smith’s review published on Letterboxd:
Colonialism Roleplay ASMR - Must Watch Till End!
the first word we hear in ZAMA is "voyeur," an accusation laid against the title character by a group of women he watches bathe on the beach. zama flees as a woman pursues him, only to turn around and strike her down. it is this inciting incident that frames the rest of the film and its perspective on colonialism: not as violence against women persay, but as voyeurism. the indigenous population and enslaved persons are often pushed to the margins of the frame, but they are not absent; martel often shows them watching their oppressors, as much as their oppressors watch them. few films i can think of (the only that immediately springs to mind is LA ÚLTIMA CENA) have ever captured the fraught tenuosness of the colonial relationship, and the paranoia that often accompanied it. there is a true sense in this film that all this could collapse at any time, that, no matter how many natives the spanish might kill, this is not their land and its original inhabitants aren't going away anytime soon. i haven't read the novel (i will soon), but it's hard to imagine such a commentary - colonialism as voyeurism, one of the inherent paradigms of cinema - existing on the page. lucrecia martel said in the post-film q&a that she felt it was important to tell a story about colonialism in latin america from her own perspective, as most narratives up to this point have been told by white men. its this perspective that makes ZAMA different from something like gray's LOST CITY OF Z, which scrubs its protagonist free of most ~problematique~ attributes and turns his tale of colonial exploration into one of creative obsession, and more like, to borrow a comparison from my boy jason miller, an extended episode of curb your enthusiasm, in which the entire universe seems united in mocking zama for his many sins as an agent of spanish imperialism. he is consistently curved by women, his requests are refused, the same words are repeated back at him over and over again, he gets deadly ill, etc, etc.
as always, martel's sound design is both sumptuous and uncanny. there were several moments in which i thought sounds from the film were coming from the audience, and im also not sure if i've ever heard a stomach GURGLE as "realistically" as one does in this film (shout out to martel for improving IBS representation). definitely needs another viewing to more eloquently parse through some of these thoughts, but this feels major (though im almost certain it will experience backlash) and it should win the llama d'or at the very least