Hot Docs 2021: Our Review of ‘Zaho Zay’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Hot Docs 2019, Movies by - May 01, 2021
Hot Docs 2021: Our Review of ‘Zaho Zay’

In Zaho Zay, Maeva Ranaivojaona render’s an impressionistic depiction of a men’s prison in her home country of Madagascar. And she presumably puts a separate context out of those original images. She plays a narration of a woman who took a job guarding that prison to look for her father. There are interesting things in that narration, as she voices out her hatred of those men and her father. But without him she feels alone.

That narration in Zaho Zay comes and goes just like the men do, as they go through different parts of the prison, singing and living as if they’re almost free. There are more quasi-narrative twists here, as one of the prisoners tell the camera that he knows the narrator’s father. There are also other scenes where an older man wearing a hat, presumably her father, hangs around in the free world, perpetually evading justice.

Zaho Zay‘s approach here is understandable. A more boring filmmaker would have condemned the justice system locking up these men while criminals like the narrator’s father still roam about. But sometimes, conventions feel better. They’re definitely much better than watching an older man with a hat sleep in different bed. Ranaivojaona follows this man around like a late era Terrence Malick but making Madagascar’s natural landscapes look more gray. As if she hates the place.

Another understandable here is that documentaries are more likely to eschew plot for observation, and that’s doubly true for boundary pushing films like this one. But this one has tendencies to be purposefully obtuse. There are even ‘plot points’ here that the film doesn’t sketch out well enough that will make the average viewer miss out. This is most likely someone’s first film from Madagascar, and that country deserves so much better than this.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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