Men, Women, Cinema — No Longer the Same Old Story

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Laurie Metcalf, left, and Saoirse Ronan in a scene from “Lady Bird,” written and directed by Greta Gerwig.

Credit
via Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — In my dream film festival, I would program Lucrecia Martel’s historical fiction “Zama” on a double bill with Louis C.K.’s contemporary comedy, “I Love You, Daddy.” Ms. Martel is an Argentine director best known on the festival circuit; Louis C.K., of course, is the American standup behind the televisionshow “Louie” and the web series “Horace and Pete.” Shortly after “Zama” opens, a man spies on a group of naked women enjoying some kind of 18th-century spa day. When the women catch him, they shout, “Voyeur, voyeur!” And when one grabs him, he slaps her, which made the whole scene read like a metaphor for our gendered movie moment.

“Zama” and “I Love You, Daddy” are two of the best movies I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival, which ends Sunday, and they could not be more different or more unwittingly in sync. Based on the novel by Antonio Di Benedetto, “Zama” tells of one Don Diego de Zama (a soulful, funny Daniel Giménez Cacho), an administrator for the Spanish empire who’s stationed in a remote Argentine outpost and gradually losing his grip. Beautiful, hypnotic, mysterious and elliptical, “Zama” is a story about a man at odds with a world that he struggles to dominate, which becomes a lacerating, often surprisingly comic evisceration of colonialism and patriarchy.

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A scene from “Zama,” about a Spanish empire administrator in Argentina.

Credit
via Toronto International Film Festival

Put differently, “Zama” is about male power in crisis, which works as an apt description for “I Love You, Daddy.” A big-screen provocation that was made relatively quietly, the film had its world premiere at Toronto and very rapidly became yet another flash point in the larger fractious discussion about men and women. A brutally and often uncomfortably funny comedy, it dances around female victimization and male exploitation, and plays with the ostensibly blurry line between the personal and the public. That makes it feel like a near-documentary about the entertainment industry, as well as a kick-me sign pinned squarely on its…

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