Light Years


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Light Years
"I'm not sure it constitutes scholarship in and of itself, but it is certainly (as with all good documentary) a satisfying look at something hereto unseen."

Light Years are a measure of distance. They are an act of translation, a consequence of the application of a formula - different perhaps from Solo: A Star Wars Story, but shortly after parsec patter Harrison Ford was somewhere equally imperial, dark. In Zama there are echoes of the revelatory transformations of Conrad's work, and in this, Manuel Abramovich's film, there are echoes of Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.

I'll stretch and call this epistolary - it's certainly framed by emails, but they are seen on screen, stark san serif, black on blank. The letters of entreaty that Zama sends are unheeded in the gaps, text consigned to hinterland. There is repetition, scenes seen from behind and within, one moment where I'm sure the text on a headphone indicates reversal which given the care and tact of every other moment feels almost an artificiality too far. An absurdity, in truth, but one borne of perception - just as the llama, heedlessly wandering, there is opportunity for disconnected discovery in all this.

There are moments of direction: Abramovich's, composition of Lucrecia Martel adjusting, placing, enacting vision. Martel's, in conversation with actors, crew, adjustments at ground level, literally. While his subject's mood changes in terms of co-operation Manuel makes hay while the sun shines - and in front of his camera and behind Lucrecia's we see concerns about ambience, alfalfa.

At the start there is another concern - asked about the film, there is a description that renders something more akin to "protagonist" as "main character". Translation is difficult business - the same closing in two different emails is translated as "best" and "hugs" - but I would be more aboard the struggle if this was even more about perception. I've seen Zama twice now, but found myself struggling to recall scenes seen in Light Years - there are alternates, other takes, perhaps even paths not taken. Documentary is often in the edit and films are not always shot chronologically so the loops and knots tied in front of us could hobble directorial effort, but there's enough rope here to grab.

There are the usual period drama issues, shots of actors smoking ahistorical cigarettes (though Zama didn't have quite the same difficulties it seems as, say, The Red Machine), and Martel herself is often in the company of a cigar. Her distinctive glasses and Zama's precision of vision are focuses here - red-framed shots composed through tortoise-shell/bakelite-rimmed lenses doubly so. In truth I am not sure it stands without the other film - I cannot, from here, see one without the other now - they are sufficiently close cousins that their co-producers appear the same. I'm not even sure it constitutes scholarship in and of itself, but it is certainly (as with all good documentary) a satisfying look at something hereto unseen.

'Makings Of' are too often DVD padding, but there can be art in the depiction of craft. Anos Luz is transporting.

Reviewed on: 21 Jun 2018
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A documentary portrait of Lucrecia Martel during the shooting of Zama.

Director: Manuel Abramovich

Year: 2017

Runtime: 72 minutes

Country: Argentina, Brazil, Spain


EIFF 2018
Karlovy 2018

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