Based on a modernist novel by Argentinian writer Antonio di Benedetto, Martel's new feature offers scenes from the life of Zama, an officer of the Spanish Crown, who is awaiting a letter from the King granting him a transfer from the river town where he is stuck. But his situation is precarious and he is forced to accept submissively every task entrusted to him by successive Governors. When Zama realises all is lost, he joins a party of soldiers going after a dangerous bandit. Like other Western characters stranded in the tropics, Zama's identity is defined by a sense of belonging to, being connected to a notion of Europe "... best remembered by those who were never there".
Hundreds of years later, South America still faces the same issues of ownership, of land and race, of conqueror and subjugated, of dissatisfaction and fatalist fatigue.
Also see Masterclass: Lucrecia Martel. Winner KNF Award, IFFR 2018.