Zahori (2021) Locarno Film Festival

August 8th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Mari Alessandrini | Chile, France, Swiss | Drama, 105′

In the rugged windswept remoteness of the Patagonian Pampas a lonely girl vows to avenge the macho menfolk by becoming a gaucho in this deeply sorrowful Western, a feature debut for Mari Alessandrini.

Life is tough for 13 year old Mora (a gentle Lara Tortosa) in the remote community where she lives with her unsupportive Swiss Italian parents, who are ecologists, and younger brother. There don’t seem to be many girls her age so she helps her father grow vegetables and makes friends with some of the animals on long walks across the desiccated landscape full of beetles and armadillos (that she plans to roast) and the occasional condor swirling overhead. Here she meets a Mapuche who gives her a brace of river trout as a gift, her disgruntled vegetarian parents refusing to touch them.

But deep-seated resentment and hostility dogs this outwardly peaceful existence, and it soon emerges that everyone harbours a savage mistrust of their neighbour, a product of the harsh terrain: Mora’s parents seem miserable; brigands plague the locals at night stealing livestock and a beautiful white horse belonging  to Mora’s Mapuche pal – the half-blind Nazareno (Curapil) who offers a vain reward for the recapture of his lifelong ‘friend’. But the horse seems to represent a freedom that the Mora can only dream of. Meanwhile two ludicrous American missionaries fetch up to proselytise and annoy everyone, but are given short shrift by the locals.

Chloe Zhao’s Oscar-winning feature The Rider, clearly inspired  Alessandrini although this is a more mournful, enigmatic feature that captures the remoteness of the wild locations, and the essence of the Mapuche, an endangered native of Patagonia and Southern Argentina.

Handling her material with confidence, Alessandrini knowns how to create tension with a lightness of touch in this alienated place at the edge of the world. With a simple score of guitar folk music and some old Italian hits from the Sixties this is a thoughtful and visually evocative portrait of a troubled community struggling to survive against the odds amid hardship and spiritual discontent. MT



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