Friday 25th May 2018
I’m on my way to the ICA to watch Zama when I notice that I am in a long row of cars. They are all different (makes, sizes) except for one common feature: they all sport various shades of grey. From silver-hued to sky-lead-grey, most vehicles either behind me or in front carry the same pale-, or in some cases, dark-looking tint. Whatever happened to the predominant red I remember seeing on the streets of London when I relocated to this country more than twenty years ago? I recall asking S at the time if red was British people’s favourite colour when choosing a car. We, too, had a scarlet-hued five-door in those days. A little old banger it was, but it did the job just fine. It is a wild guess and I have no evidence for it but I thought at the time that the choice of colour had a lot to do with New Labour’s optimism-driven, political agenda. A subliminal message mutually and unconsciously agreed upon by both motorists and Blair’s cunning spin doctors. Amongst other things red symbolises passion and adventure. The latter took us to Iraq. The less said about that subject, the better, though.
Grey, on the other hand comes across as conservative. Which, according to my totally unscientific theory, is the reason why silver has been motorists’ colour of choice for the last eight years. Its dullness is the perfect complement for Tory-led, austerity-imposed Britain.
Guilt, isolation and shame feature prominently in Lucrecia Mantel’s Zama. Man finds himself as an 18th-century administrator in a colonial Spain-run outpost. Man misses his wife and children whom he has not seen for years. Man feels uneasy about the abuses and violations to which the locals are subjected but does very little to stop them (in fact, he fathers a child with one of the indigenous women). Man fetishises the local women whom he is always trying to catch in the nude when they bathe in the river. Man slowly, ever so slowly, begins to break down.
After the film I find myself back in my grey car, one hand on gear stick and one holding the ignition key. Ready to go, and yet, feeling lost, like Diego de Zama. Despite the tourists milling about in Trafalgar Square and the late-night drunkards intent on having off-the-cuff conversations with passers-by as they zig-zag their way around…