The Headless Woman

Film, Drama
5 out of 5 stars
2 out of 5 stars
(15user reviews)
In 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.


Release details

Release date:
Friday February 19 2010
87 mins

Cast and crew

Lucrecia Martel
Lucrecia Martel
María Onetto
Inés Efron
Claudia Cantero
César Bordón
Daniel Genoud

Average User Rating

3.1 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:1
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:0
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All you harsh critics didn't get this film and that's okay, not everyone has to enjoy the same things. But there are some of us out there, David Jenkins included, who appreciated what the film was trying to do: show the inner life of a woman in shock over having possibly committed a crime, and also to create the realistic environment in which she lives. This was interesting to me for two reasons. One, because of the brilliant performance of the lead actress, I was endlessly curious about what had happened to her and how she would react to social interactions. And second, because I've never been to Argentina, I was intrigued as I got an education about the stratification of that society and how it is similar and different to the one in which I live. Although this film won't top my best film list, it was memorable and provocative, and that's saying a lot.

I'm surprised that this film is running again. I saw it last autumn and totally agree with the majority of audience reviews - this is a seriously boring and overhyped film, worthy of one or two stars. Read the audience reviews first (below) before even considering this one - much better to try "Le Refuge" or "London River" - both very good.

Was the crash a red herring? ( It certainly looked like an animal that she had run over.) From other clues in the story was she suffering from the early onset of Alzheimers?

Desperately disappointing. To compare this film with Hidden is a massive insult to Haneke. No emotional drama, no dread, no tension, a sprawling, half-baked narrative, a series of cardboard cut-out characters whose role seemed pointless... I went to see it with my cinema buddy; we are both keen film buffs. Five minutes after the film finished, we were chatting about other things, the movie completely forgotten.

An interesting but disappointing film. The opening sequence seemed to set up a situation that would lead to a gripping developement. Instead characters were hardly developed to the extent that I didn't care about them. The film was so enigmatic that I found it impossible to be involved. I did wonder if Argentinean audiences would make more of it. The business of all her records including her stay at the hotel totally vanishing might well strike a resonance with an audience aware that so many Argentineans "disappeared" during the military dictatorship. Still I did stick it out to the end but I can well understand why many didn't.

Just back from the Renoir - had to look up the film length on my blackberry halfway through (thank God only 90 mins) and from then on it was clockwatching all the way. I tend not to read reviews until I've seen a film as I don't like to be prejudiced on the way in, but in this case I regret that policy as if I had read just half of these scathing comments I would have gone to one of the many other good films that are out there at the moment. It begins so promisingly but gradually fades out into boring nothingness. Every decent rag except the Observer seems to have waxed lyrical about this utterly mediocre piece of self indulgent banality - I can only imagine that there was some kind of 'Day of the Triffids' like experience in which all of the reviewers were blinded and thus unable to see the film for what it really is.

brilliant, BRILLIANT, brilliant....Lucrecia Martel all the way...great review too

brilliant, BRILLIANT, brilliant....Lucrecia Martel all the way...great review too

Masterpiece? Five stars? Best arthouse film of the decade? Well, maybe the last one, since the new decade is only 3 months old, but even that's a stretch in my book. No doubt there is some interesting work here, but I found the film to be painfully dull. I went with three friends, all genuinely interested in the art of cinema. We left after an hour and some. The emperor is butt naked friends. Watch paint dry instead.

.. and the clueless audience. I agree with the comments above, that TO David Jenkins has overhyped the film. Not sure why fiive stars, that is a lot to live up to and this film didn't.

This film was really poor! I was so excited by the review which sounded amazing andI may write tot TO and ask for my money back. It was utterly boring and what seemed like great themes emerging (how little we really communicate with each other, estrangement of husband and wife, child's crush on her Aunt) were never developed or explored. A waste of time.

I personally wasn't expecting an Amaldovar film, I went to see this film with a wide open mind not knowing what to expect but expecting something a little special in some way or other. I am a fan of everyday life stories in film so I was not expecting action or anything that spoon feeds you. This film was only thought provoking in the sense that it wasn't very good and why wasn't it. Surely a good film of any kind should leave one with some sort of feeling or strong reflection on the subject or story. To compare this film to Haneke's Hidden was way too loose. Haneke's dynamic cannot be compared to this one dimensional, flat film. O.k. if one looked at The Headless Woman as a film with full realism then it may score a little but it missed that fundamental intensity and emotional engagement that a film of this nature should have.

I was also at the Renoir last night. Should've known from the TO review even daring to mention this film in the same breath as 'Hidden' that we were in for a disappointment. "Casually dispensing with exposition and formal character introductions..." - that's a very generous view; much more the case that the film-maker didn't have the skill to construct a narrative that would have left the viewer actually caring one jot for Vero and her tribulations. There was no sense of place, no wit or verve and, worse, no real suspense (we felt no sense of dread for Vero, no desperately hoping that she would avoid being arrested/charged/found guilty of murder). There were opportunities for interesting character development, particularly with Vero's sister, but this was never followed through as the film-maker ploughed her own very dogged, blinkered path. Sitting on one of the back rows, I got a good shufty at the number of bored-out-of-their-mind viewers (many) and the number of walkouts (surprisingly many for a 90min arthouse flick). I was almost late for the film; a very nice woman at the checkout at the Waitrose nearby allowed me to nip in ahead of her with my two boxes of muesli. Very kind of her, but I wish she hadn't bothered now.