Once upon a time in Venezuela
Congo Mirador, on the edge of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, was once a reasonably prosperous fishing village. The houses floated on the lake, beneath which lies one of the largest oil fields in Latin America. But in recent years, the village has been in steady decline. Sedimentation is making the lake shallower and residents have to work hard to keep their houses afloat.
Central to the film are two prominent villagers fighting to preserve their community. Mrs. Tamara is an influential businesswoman and passionate supporter of President Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, and his successor Nicolás Maduro. With national elections in sight, she has no qualms about buying votes, much to the disgust of her rival Natalie, the village teacher, who supports the opposition.
Anabel Rodríguez Ríos follows the events with compassion and an eye for beauty. She portrays a community which is undeniably disintegrating, despite the resilience of its people, reflecting a country in deep political and economic crisis.
After working as a psychiatrist for more than 50 years, 82-year-old Masatomo Yamamoto is about to retire. But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped caring about his fellow human beings. Kazuhiro Soda, who previously filmed Yamamoto for Mental (2008), returns to the clinic in Okayama for Zero. Patients bring along tasty treats as a token of their affection, and ask for final words of advice. And, of course, they are also concerned about whether they will have such a good rapport with the new doctor.
Soda swears by a consistently observational style: his long, single-shot scenes are always in service to whatever is happening in the space. Some of these focus on extended personal conversations, while in others barely a word is spoken. What is always apparent is the level of trust that the endlessly patient psychiatrist has built up over the years.
A scene where Soda visits Yamamoto and his wife, who has dementia, is particularly moving. Bodies start to fail and memories fade. But even here, perhaps especially here, the tireless compassion endures. A beautiful portrait overflowing with a psychiatrist’s neighborly love.