Films that try to convey a state of disorientation live and die by their central metaphors, and the one that lends Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman its title is certifiably lame. After hitting a young boy—or was it a dog?—with her car while reaching for a cellphone, our middle-aged bourgeois dentist Veronica (Maria Onetto) pauses, drives on, and presumably loses her mental bearings. I say presumably because we don’t know anything about Veronica prior to this scene, so her reintroduction to her husband, her lover, and her office mirror our own state of unknowing. In other words, when her husband drags an animal carcass into the kitchen to carve up tonight’s dinner, both the viewer and the protagonist are pretty seriously weirded out. It’s an audacious beginning to an unconventional narrative, but unfortunately Headless Woman does little more than chart Veronica’s slow and steady disengagement from adult life, and then her unconvincing reentry. There’s no creeping sense of invisible miasma a la Todd Haynes’s Safe, nor does the film peek into Inland Empire‘s terrifying abyss. Martel has a gift for conveying the tactility of unstable surroundings—the swamp of her La Cienaga exerts an unsettling metaphorical pull—and her protagonist’s delicate unmooring never feels inorganic. (Onetto’s frighteningly distant performance is like watching a sleepwalker.) But at its core, is Headless Woman really about something as banal as middle-class domestic boredom, or the insularity of the bourgeoisie? Are we supposed to find the irony in Veronica’s ability to serve her various roles without committing her thoughts and emotions? All we have are suggestions. I was so narcotized (or, less politely, put to sleep) by the film’s lack of dramatic agency that a colleague had to point out Martel’s unsubtle strategy of framing our headless woman from the neck down. It’s that kind of movie.
- 87 min
- Lucrecia Martel
- Lucrecia Martel
- Maria Onetto, Ines Efron, Claudia Cantero, Cesar Bordon, Daniel Genoud, Guillermo Arengo, Maria Vaner
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