Writer/director Jim McKay’s fifth feature, and his first since 2005’s Angel Rodriguez, is his most tightly plotted film yet, propelled by a momentum that’s often exhilaratingly fleet. Yet his emphasis on his characters’ everyday stakes keeps the film from feeling lightweight.
If Hong is indeed the best that we have got, there is something troubling about this fact. For it should detract nothing from the integrity of his body of work to say that, when taken altogether, it is a quintessential expression of a cinema of disappointment and diminished expectations.
Even the most resourceful, imaginative filmmaker would be hard-pressed to redeem the screenplay, specifically the lengths to which Cody goes to disguise the true nature of the story, and also the underlying reasons for the charade, which are unconvincing and in bad faith.
That Denis can produce a work that, without a trace of preciousness, is equal parts indebted to Barthes and Chicago blues, connected as arm is to shoulder to the film-historical legacy of post-New Wave French filmmaking, is only further justification for claim that the 71-year-old is the greatest working director over the last two decades.
“It is a time when this country is under a lot of criticism, rightly so, and I have found my place in portraying certain things, but showing them to you in a way that you get to make your own judgment. And so far, I have been very moved that people want to see the good of this country.”
If one of the principal powers and pleasures of cinema is its ability to momentarily suspend thoughts or cares about what lies outside the frame, then Zama can be taken an object lesson in manipulation. Every strenuously controlled moment and movement constitutes an irresistible entreaty to simply go blank and watch.
As Soderbergh, in his mini-mogul practice, endeavors to hack out new routes leading around the established economic order of filmmaking, his films depict men and women doing their best to negotiate contingency plans for the perilous environment created by a carnivorous economy on the prowl.
Depardon is not out to expose naked cruelty, neglect, and dereliction of duty, as Wiseman and Wang do in their films, but something much more subtly invidious: the revolving-door efficiency of the state apparatus, mechanized service behind a blandly humane smile.