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The Headless Woman

Posted by martinteller on February 15, 2013

Verónica (María Onetto), a dentist who runs a practice with her husband, is driving one day.  Her cell phone rings, she reaches for it… and hits something.  She looks in the rearview mirror and thinks she sees a dog.  She spends the next few days unnerved and dazed by the experience, and eventually believes — or recalls — that it was a young boy she hit.  Her husband (with the help of her lover… who happens to be a relative of the husband) goes to work tidying up the situation.

There is obviously social/political allegory at play here.  Vero lives a privileged lifestyle, with dark-skinned servants — people she barely acknowledges — attending to her every need, cushioning her from harm or worry.  Her crime (if there is a crime) is swept under the rug, evidence neatly removed, memories buried and forgotten.  Guilt vanishes for the guilty.

Lucrecia Martel does some fine filmmaking.  She has an excellent sense of how to use the camera, framing Onetto in ways that separate her or fragment her.  Other people sharing the same space are often out of focus, emphasizing her distance and isolation.  Martel doles out information in disorienting slices, jumping from moment to moment without always providing any connective tissue, leaving the viewer as shaken and hazy as the protagonist.  There are subtle and interesting touches throughout.  For instance, Vero sees a boy knocked down in a soccer game… while she looks at his prone body, a dog barks in the distance.  In the next scene, Vero has a small breakdown, as if the connection triggered her guilt reflex.

I wasn’t entirely enamored with the film.  I admired its tone — somewhere in the realm of Antonioni and Todd Haynes’s Safe — and some of the clever use of cinematic language to convey ideas.  But my interest waned after about an hour, as the ideas seemed to repeat themselves and run out of gas.  And Onetto’s performance is hard to evaluate.  There are interesting nuances to it, and yet I never really had a feel for the type of person Vero is.  She felt more like a prop or a concept than a characterization.  I suppose it could be Martel’s desire to dehumanize Vero, but it does cheapen the experience a bit, making her more of an easy bourgeois target to be knocked down.

Still, I was impressed by the craft of the movie, and intrigued by its ambiguities.  It seems like a good film to watch twice to pick up on the small details.  Rating: Very Good (82)


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