Text: Jodie McNeilly
Mora (Lara Tortosa) has a wild spirit. Despite growing up in the boundary free beauty of the Argentinian West, she experiences her world as tethered, like her old friend Nazareno’s (touchingly played by Santos Curapil) horse Zahorí is to a pole. She is tethered by rules, institutional learning, sexism, superstition and ideological Buddhist parents who have moved to this barren place, carving a simple existence from thick volcanic ash. Mora negotiates her adolescence in these desolate surrounds, oozing a temporality that is more cowboy than TikTok.
We come to understand the characters through the swelling land roughly corniced by the Patagonian mountainscape. Shots track and linger upon Mora, her little brother Himeko (Cirilo Wesley), Nazareno and two Christian Soldiers, all marching to a different drum. They walk between scattered dwellings with playful curiosity, reverie or retrieval. I’m reminded of Gus Van Sant’s Gerry (2003) where the camera mediates its relationship with the landscape entirely through two walking figures—but the formers contact with the wilderness is constituted far less violently.
The spectre of Argentina’s strong missionary past descends, almost as ridiculous as a scene from the Book of Mormons, the intrusion ultimately corrupting the contiguity of body, spirit and nature that Nazareno possesses and Mora frantically cultivates. The importation of other faiths fails in principle and practice: Buddhist vegetarians go hungry and Christians falter at the unburied in their refusals to accept the cycle of desert life.
Zahorí is a meditation on death as loss and freedom. Everyone contemplates it, even the scarab beetles predict our finitude. Relationships die. Animal bones lace every turn. Like Mora, the frenzied Zahorí charges the plains, finally coming to rest; the true tether, "life itself", becoming ashes.
Zahorí is Marí Alessandri’s debut feature as both Director and Writer. She provides a feminine and innocent view of these harsh lands through Mora, a contemporary Calamity Jane who straddles her freedom to walk in the shoes of a fading Gaucho. A film to be viewed on the big screen in order to soak up the changing ambience of light, wind and inky depths of night with flashes of chiaroscuro (Joakim Chardonnens). A very fine contribution by an astute filmmaker who understands how to embody place.
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Screenings in Swiss cinema theatres
Zahorí | Film | Mari Alessandrini | CH-ARG-CHL-FR 2021 | 105' | Locarno Film Festival 2021, Filmar en América latina Genève 2021
First published: December 04, 2021