Interview with Lucrecia Martel

Kristina Zorita
Kristina Zorita

EWA Network meets Lucrecia Martel


Kristina Zorita interviews Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel (“La Cienaga”, “The Holy Girl”, “The Headless Woman”) as her fourth feature is being released released in Spanish theaters.

Zama” was supposed to compete at the last Cannes Film Festival. But the appointment of Pedro Almodovar, producer of the film, as the head of the Jury put the premiere off until Venice Festival. Martel has adapted a novel by Mario di Benedetto set in the XVIII century. Zama is a “creole” (an Argentinian of European origins) working for the Spanish Crown and waiting in vain for a transfer. Beautifully crafted, “Zama” is Martel’s first literary adaptation, first period film and first digitally filmed feature.

It is also your first film without a woman playing the main role. But you have said that it is unclear if Zama is masculine or feminine? What do you mean?

Right from di Benedetto’s book, it is surprising nowadays to see a male character so attentive to his desires and frustrations. And to see how he elaborates his love frustrations. His approach is closer to a woman’s way of thinking or at least to what we interpret as such. To tell the truth, I do not usually write my characters thinking of them as men or women because it is quite easy to fall into clichés. So in this case, that contradiction between the ideas of masculinity, especially in a period where some values and military epic are supposed to be on the top, emanates from the novel.

What else led you to adapt the book?

Argentina is profoundly marked by European philosophical trends, and lately, by North American ones. But I have never read a text with sketches of existentialist thoughts from our continent, furthermore set at the end of the XVIII century and not during the Independence Wars, as it usually would be. So the possibility of being in touch with a philosophical thought born from our own circumstances was also very rewarding.

Which circumstances are those?

The colonial condition, basically. Sometimes I think that I would have preferred to have been born in a colony than in a metropolis. Because in a colony there are striking contradictions. When the nations get their independence, the mentality of the small bourgeoisie is still far away from being independent. And when talking about natives, there is no difference between colony and independence.

I would say that “Zama” is about identity. Contrary to his wish, the creole civil servant is on the one hand not treated as an equal to his Spanish fellow co-workers, but he is also on the other hand discriminating against the natives.

And things still haven’t changed. Nowadays, there is an enormous distance between people with European origins and the natives. And there is a huge ignorance. I think that it could be one of the first Argentinian films where there is not a paternalistic approach towards the natives. They are not good or bad, they are just like the others. For us, it is quite difficult to elaborate an image of our fellow citizens without giving them the goodness of the good savage or the flaws of the barbarity.

The identity is also painful for Zama …

For me the whole idea of identity is a fantasy, a way of torturing ourselves, a mean of domination. If I had no ambition of « being » someone, there would not be a chance of failure. Anything could be mended. In that sense, I think that women are more trained for those failures and for not « being ».

Apart from Zama, there are two important characters. One is the woman played by the Spanish actress Lola Dueñas. Is she an empowered woman?

Lola enriched the character. She turned her role into a sort of Spanish prostitute who came to America as the companion of a soldier and suddenly became a lady in the colony. She is a woman who gets a certain kind of freedom in that enclosed situation with her lovers and playing with the servants.

And thirdly, Vicuña Porto, a Brazilian outlaw? Was this a requirement for shooting a coproduction with Brazil?

We looked for the coproduction because we wanted to make a frontier film. In the last part of the film, we shot in a region belonging to Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. It is a region defined by a geography, the animals and the meteorology. But where people have no notion of borders. The final part is set in a no man’s land.

What is the current situation for Argentinian female directors?

Argentinian cinema has always been marked by women. When I was 14 years old, the director Maria Luisa Bemberg and her producer Lita Stantic produced “Camilla” right after the dictatorship. It was about a socialite who ran away with a priest. It was an absolute success with more than two million spectators and nominations to the Oscar awards. This led me to think that the cinema was made by women. That working in cinema was a female profession. Moreover, when I went to Film School I had many female co-students. The proportion of films made by women has been quite high. But it is true that they mainly make non-commercial films.