Zaho Zay

(Maéva Ranaïvojaona & Georg Tiller, Austria/France/Madagascar, 2020)


The team of Maéva Ranaïvojaona and Georg Tiller weave an unusual, haunting hybrid of documentary and fiction, lyric poetry and social reflection in Zaho Zay.


One must be careful not to over-synopsise it: the narrative aspect is fleeting, periodic, allusive, not at all in the driver’s seat. Better to say simply that the voice of a woman (text by Maéva Raharimanana) conjures both a world she inhabits as the guard at a crowded prison in Madagascar, and the wandering, perhaps mythic father she scarcely knew – a murderer who decides his crimes by rolling dice.


Like in João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata’s superb The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012), staged elements of fiction are allowed to enter the documentary frame – but, equally, fragments of this reality come to interact via montage with the (largely off-screen) story.


The poetic correspondences set up by this interaction of realms are rich and never schematic: abandonment by a father who holds power over life and death is intertwined with the politics of a place where “disaster and ferocity” rule.


Especially poignant and piercing is the place of “woman in the night of our country” – sealed in the ultimate glimpse of a women’s prison beside the male enclave.

© Adrian Martin September 2020

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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