Review: The Holy Girl

In The Holy Girl, Lucrecia Martel strikingly conflates the confusion of adolescent desire with spiritual paranoia.

The Holy Girl
Photo: Fine Line Features

Writer-director Lucrecia Martel’s latest, The Holy Girl, is the story of intersecting lives in and around an Argentine hotel where a medical convention takes place. Martel conflates the confusion of adolescent desire with spiritual paranoia when Dr. Jeno (Carlos Belloso) rubs his crotch against the teenage Amalia (Maria Alché) outside of the hotel, which is managed by her family, and the girl experiences a divine moment.

In their Cannes report, The Hollywood Reporter trivializes the film by calling it “a forbidden-love story centering around societal and religious conventions,” a somewhat arrogant comment that ignores the film’s very specific cultural moment. Amalia isn’t in love with Dr. Jeno; he’s but a pervert who knows how to exploit an advantageous situation, while she’s a naïve Catholic girl who confuses his erection for a message from God.

Martel shuns exposition, sometimes frustratingly so, but that’s because the director intends audiences to approach her films as mood pieces. The Holy Girl is about the sensation of religious fervor in Latin America and how that obsession is inextricably bound to sex. Martel has a talent for crisscrossing little narratives, and the points where these threads intersect are often lovely and scary. Her claustrophobic compositions are like postcards alive with discovery.

Indeed, in both La Cienaga and The Holy Girl, class struggles and religious hang-ups are thickly coded into the film’s aesthetic details. Martel can’t exactly be called a horror film director, but I can’t think of another filmmaker currently working in the genre with her knack for summoning tension; in both La Cienaga and, now, The Holy Girl, you can cut it with a knife, all the more impressive because it feels so much like a world that truly exists.

Score: 
 Cast: Mercedes Morán, Carlos Belloso, Alejandro Urdapilleta, María Alche, Julieta Zylberberg, Mía Maestro, Marta Lubos, Arturo Goetz, Mónica Villa  Director: Lucrecia Martel  Screenwriter: Juan Pablo Domenech, Lucrecia Martel  Distributor: HBO Films/Fine Line Features  Running Time: 106 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2004  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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