Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center showcased the work of Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel from April 20 to May 1, screening her first three features in a film series, “The Salta Trilogy” (a nod to her Salta origins, a hilly northern province of Argentina). Prior to the series, Martel previewed her new film and first feature in nine years, Zama, with a follow-up Q&A.
Zama, based on the novel by Antonio Di Benedetto, is set in 18th Century South America. Martel explains that the novel is actually a soliloquy of the main character, Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), who desires another post from the Spanish Empire. While speaking about her latest film, she reflected on the saying, “You cannot make a good novel into a decent film.” Martel disagrees with the saying and says that it’s unfair. She continued, “When movie folks talk about literature, what they’re doing is imagining the movie. And these are such distinct opposite things that materialize.”
Martel is self-taught and would have liked to have gone to school, but couldn’t due to the harsh economical crisis in ‘89. She’d go to a bar with a group of friends and they’d talk about movies, instead. She told the audience that “it was some type of learning to talk among your peers, people the same age.” Martel says that the bar was “a sort of school” ... “I guess we were learning the hard way.” For about two years she went to animation school where she’d work on soundtracks and transitioned to working on images which made things easier for her from a technical point.
“The Salta Trilogy” was screened in 35mm film: La Cienaga (2001), The Holy Girl (2004) and The Headless Woman (2008) . All three films were in Spanish with English subtitles.
Martel’s first film, La Cienaga, tells the story of an inebriated woman (Graciela Borges) who falls on wine glasses while collecting them around by her pool, relying on her family to take care of her. The film starts and ends with a close-up of a swampy pool, cinematically coming full circle. With the film dedicated to both of her grandmothers, Martel says that she comes from a tradition of oral storytelling and finds this a source of inspiration; for structure, more so than for plot. “All storytelling has become an endless source of inspiration.”
In The Holy Girl, a 14-year-old girl Amalia (Maria Alche), is inappropriately touched by an older man named Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso) on a crowded street. Dr. Jano is in town for a convention and is staying at the same hotel where she and her mother, Helena (Mercedes Moran), live. Amalia takes it upon herself to try and save his soul as she stalks him and attempts to talk to him. Helena becomes friendly toward Dr. Jano, the connection unbeknownst to both of them. Amalia is the common denominator for possible catastrophic outcomes.
The Headless Woman tells a story of a woman who may have killed someone in a hit-and-run accident because she was distracted by a ringing cell phone. While she vividly remembers the event, there is no recollection in anyone else’s memory.Maria Onetto gives subtle nuances of a silent actress as Veronica, showing her anguish and anxiety over the possible tragedy.
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© Stephanie A. Taylor (5/7/18) FF2 Media
Photos: Lucrecia Martel directs Zama ; Photo still of Zama (courtesy of TIFF)