New York Film Festival Report No. 2 (Zama, Call Me By Your Name)

zama

This is the second of what were originally going to be three reports from the New York Film Festival, but might end up being four (or five?). Who knows! Anyway, the movies keep being good so I want to keep recommending them.

Zama
Anyone who’s lived in Latin America will recognize that despite all of its beauty, the continent is still fighting to stand out of the shadow of Colonialism. The hierarchical structures brought in from Europe have waned and morphed throughout the years, but they haven’t gone away. This colonial past is a dark spot that affects the core of the continent to this day. Lucrecia Martel, Argentine director of such masterpieces as La Cienaga and The Headless Woman, knows how to poke at this dark corner of Latin America’s psyche in a way that virtually no other filmmaker is capable of. For Martel, adapting Antonio di Benedetto’s historical novel to the screen was a painstaking task, leaving a nine year gap between her newest film and the one before. The cinephile community missed her terribly for the last nine years, but a movie like Zama is worth the wait.

Don Diego de Zama is the protagonist of the movie, and he is the perfect subject to represent the conflicting resentments of the South American upper class. He is an officer of the Spanish crown, stationed somewhere in the jungles of colonial Paraguay, who wants nothing more than to be transferred to a less remote town. So he waits. And waits. And waits for a royal letter that will change his fortune. A letter that never comes. Of course what makes Martel such a great filmmaker is how she chooses to tell this particular story. Beyond being another acute autopsy of Latin American society of the kind only Martel can deliver, Zama is a uniquely audacious film in terms of its filmmaking. There is virtually no exposition in the film. It’s hard to tell when and where things are taking place, and what we’re supposed to take out of each scene. It’s a purposely obtuse movie, the kind of difficult work that opens immense rewards to those who are willing to engage with it, and that only a master filmmaker can deliver.

Zama was picked up by Strand Releasing, which will release the film sometime in the first half 2018.

Call Me By Your Name
I’ve been a fan of director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) for a while now, and even I must admit that Call Me by Your Name feels like a big leap in his filmmaking. In which direction that leap is going could be debated. I’d argue it’s a leap toward maturity. He’s always been unapologetically stylish (and I’ve loved him for it). With this latest movie -a romance between two young men spending a summer in beautiful Northern Italy- he seems to have become able to apply his stylish fervent impulses not only with the focus of his previous films but with newly gained patience and restraint.

That tricky French term mise en scene- which describes how a movie chooses to tell its story in visually artful ways- must be applied when talking about this movie. All technical and formal aspects of filmmaking seem to be working in a very deliberate and impressive way. It’s a movie that manages to be formally impressive without calling attention to itself. And yet, as much as I admired its filmmaking, I couldn’t quite connect emotionally to the movie in the way most people seem to have. I suspect a variety of reasons for this. Some have to do with the film itself, maybe in its casting or its script. Others have to do with things outside the film, like the fact that I’m just a straight dude trying to connect to this specifically gay story, or how I had a really long day at work before sitting down to watch this deliberately paced two hour plus movie.

All I’m saying is there is tons to admire here. So given the circumstances of my watching of the film, I wouldn’t be willing to solidify my opinion of it until I get to see it a second time. And in case you’re wondering what the kind of intense reaction the film is generating in its target audience, I recommend this rather beautiful essay by Jason Adams.

Call Me By Your Name will open in limited release on November 24. 

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