The Holy Girl (15)
Time Out saysMartel’s very fine follow-up to ‘La Ciénaga’ is again set in that quiet provincial town in northern Argentina, though this time in winter, not summer. Events take place mainly at a faintly run-down spa hotel where ear, nose, and throat specialists are gathered for a conference. One, Dr Jano (Carlos Belloso), catches the eye of Helena (Mercedes Moran), the divorcee who runs the place with her brother, and whose teenage diving prowess once inspired in the now married Jano an admiration he seems still to feel. What Helena doesn’t realise, however, is that in a crowd watching a musician in the street, Jano has already pressed himself up against her sexually curious teenage daughter Amalia (Maria Alché), whose religious faith has prompted her to respond by embarking on a divine mission…
Of the various Argentinian film-makers who’ve been wowing the international festival and arthouse circuit since the late ’90s, Martel is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive, talented and subtle. Here she pieces together her narrative obliquely, slowly and slightly suspensefully, so that we only gradually come to grasp properly the exact nature of actions, relationships, motives and their implications. But the wait’s well worth it. Through carefully composed images and meticulously mixed sound, Martel creates a world that’s seemingly hermetic but strangely familiar, where ‘good’ and ‘evil’, fear and desire, innocence and experience become, both literally and metaphorically, questions of perspective; life’s inevitably messy and confusing, so morality, especially, depends on time, place and what you see, hear and feel. While several standpoints are explored, Amalia’s often takes precedence, so that we’re steadily drawn into a mood of mysterious secrecy and misguided surmisal – which can lead only to pain. That Martel establishes, sustains and intensifies that mood with such graceful expertise confirms her as an artist of enormous promise.
Fri Feb 4, 2005