The Headless Woman
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Time Out says
Tue Feb 16 2010In what could be one of the greatest films ever made about the emotional realities of a damaged mind, this giddily disorientating latest from Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel (‘La Ciénaga’, ‘The Holy Girl’) is a work of frenzied genius. It opens with glamorous, middle-aged dentist Vero (María Onetto – a tour de force) driving along a quiet dirt track. There’s a sudden bump. She’s hit something. But what? A dog? Or maybe one of the teens we’ve seen loitering on the roadside? Clutching her brow, she speeds off without finding out what, exactly, just dented her fender.
As with the question of who is sending the tapes in Michael Haneke’s ‘Hidden’, Martel spends the remainder of the film cultivating a mystery whose solution, it transpires, may be extraneous to the actual story she is trying to tell. Casually dispensing with exposition and formal character introductions, she instead burdens us with an intimate, first-hand experience of Vero’s temporary discombobulation. Vero’s tragic attempts to bluff her way through a life that has lost all meaning are perfectly realised by Martel’s brand of ambient, almost dreamlike social realism, where each shot demands a swift decoding to reveal its ulterior purpose.
In line with the director’s previous films, there’s an incisive political subtext lurking under this ostensibly interior drama. While Vero’s loss of memory adds a level of discomfort to her daily life, it also allows her a spell of self-reflection and moral rejuvenation. Her anxiety awakens a mindfulness of her bourgeois complacency which in turn makes her reassess the connections she has with her own family. The bitter closing shot, though, suggests that you can never change those accustomed to a life of privileged conformity. It’s a supremely disconcerting kiss-off to a cinematic head-trip like no other.
Author: David Jenkins