Towards the end of the 18th century in a remote South American colony, Spanish functionary Don Diego di Zama (Gimenez Cacho) languishes in a dead-end position, dreaming of loftier postings and his faraway family. Thwarted by the bureaucracy and rebuffed by a local noblewoman Luciana (Duenas), Zama takes off with a band of soldiers in pursuit of the legendary scoundrel Vicuna Porto (Nachtergaele).
Adapted from a 1956 novel by Antonio Di Benedetto, Martel infuses this historical drama with a novel dose of dry absurdity. She crafts a languorous, dreamy narrative with pointed commentary on slavery and racial hierarchy. It’s also a vivid study of human stagnation, as Don Diego gradually realizes he is trapped, a victim of the system, and unlikely ever to see his family again. Giminez Cacho is perfect as the officious “corregidor” facing personal and professional indignities in this scenic, richly textured critique of colonialism.