ZAHO ZAY

      No Comments on ZAHO ZAY

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian) Deutsch (German)

by Georg Tiller and Maéva Ranaïvojaona

grade: 8

Zaho Zay is immediately striking for his strongly contemplative approach. An approach that makes long silences and images in which the places, together with objects, are treated as real characters, its strong point. An approach devoid of any musical score, with the exception of a few rigorously diegetic songs.

The die is cast

Cinema and reality. Cinema is reality. And it is often very difficult to establish where, precisely, the boundary between fiction and reality lies. The two directors Georg Tiller and Maéva Ranaïvojaona know this well. And with their film Zaho Zay – presented as an Austrian premiere at the Viennale 2020 – they have created a hybrid product, halfway between documentary and fiction film, in which the voice of the protagonist is also the voice of many other women who experience daily the same situation as her.

Images of a quiet place in Madagascar. The protagonist’s house is surrounded by greenery. The girl, sitting on the doorstep, meditatively looks at the horizon. Her voice – strictly in voice over – begins to accompany us on her journey. What has become of her father? How much longer will she have to wait before she can embrace him again? The woman works as a prison guard. Among the many faces of the prisoners could be that of her father, whom she believes is always on the run around the world carrying out brutal murders, relying on dice to choose his victims time after time. But how will things really be? The girl, in fact, barely remembers her father. And the image of him sitting at a table, intent on rolling his dice, will accompany her for the rest of her life.

Zaho Zay is immediately striking for his strongly contemplative approach. An approach that makes long silences and images in which the places themselves, together with objects, are treated as real characters, its strong point. An approach devoid of any musical score, except for a few rigorously diegetic songs. The image of the protagonist’s father wanders the streets of distant cities, hotel rooms, the desert. And, at the same time, in prison, numerous prisoners’ faces – played, precisely, by real prisoners – mingle with one another, resigned in their everyday life.

This film draws heavily from numerous film genres, above all detective stories and westerns, and despite its hyper-realistic approach, which is aesthetically studied down to the smallest detail, it also contains important dreamlike elements full of strong symbolism (see, above all, the figure of a child who meets the girl’s father during his wanderings) and clear references to the traditions and beliefs of Madagascar, where director Maéva Ranaïvojaona herself is from.

Time passes slowly. Very slowly. Then, suddenly, something happens off-screen. And the fact that we cannot see what has happened makes us even more startled (Fritz Lang and Michael Haneke got it right). Just like the subsequent image of a razor covered in blood, placed on a hotel room sink next to the fateful three dice.

And gradually, the discourse moves no longer – or, at any rate, not only – to the protagonist and her desire to find her father. At a certain point, the discourse becomes broader, revealing a strong symbolism of the girl’s story itself and a consequent parallelism with the politics of Madagascar. The girl’s father, with his absence, almost cruelly influences her everyday life. The State, for its part, seems to do the same with its citizens.

A criticism, this one, that never leaves behind, on the other hand, a strong, very strong lyricism, another strong point of Zaho Zay. And it is precisely this hybrid aspect, this powerful realism that blends well with the oneiric, this marked aesthetic that makes this work by Georg Tiller and Maéva Ranaïvojaona a true gem of contemporary Austrian cinema.

Original title: Zaho Zay
Directed by: Georg Tiller, Maéva Ranaïvojaona
Country/year: Austria, France, Madagascar / 2020
Running time: 78’
Genre: drama
Cast: Nabiha Akkari, Eugène Raphael Ranaïvojaona, Michelle Eva Ranaïvojaona
Screenplay: Georg Tiller, Maéva Ranaïvojaona
Cinematography: Georg Tiller
Produced by: Subobscura Films, Tomsa Films, Katrafay Film

Info: the page of Zaho Zay on the website of the Viennale; the page of Zaho Zay on the website of the Austrian Film Commission; the page of Zaho Zay on iMDb