It’s debatable whether there have been enough recent dream-logic Spanish-language films that deconstruct the masculinity of colonizers in 18th-century South America for it to qualify as its own subgenre, but if so, then Lucretia Martel’s Zama is proving to be the most celebrated of the bunch. Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is a Spanish officer stationed in Paraguay. He has no real function or purpose there and longs to return to his family in Spain. The colonial governor always puts off writing the letter of transfer as the years pass, instead giving Zama increasingly pointless tasks, until Zama decides he has no choice but to go into the wilderness and make a futile and stupid gesture of his own.
Zama (the movie) is less about its story than how it’s told, and Martel creates a finely detailed world with so many absurdist touches that it makes a Jodorowsky film look streamlined and uncluttered by comparison. (That’s a compliment.) The sound design is no less dense, and Martel also makes excellent use of the eternally falling Shepard Tone, an effect that will someday be as overused as Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” is now. Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja remains the high-water mark of this burgeoning genre, but Martel’s Zama is a worthy if not wholly satisfying addition.
Opens Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission.