Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza) (2008)

The fact that Lucrecia Martel's latest is only shown in one cinema in all of London says a lot about this film. It is virtually impenetrable. The sound mixing is so deliberately abstract that half the time you are not even sure who is actually speaking in a scene. The camera is always conveniently placed in positions that make you want to peer over whatever is obstructing your view and see actually what the hell is going on.

Having said all that, it is also a film that makes you want to go back to it. It requires multiple viewings not because of its complex narrative, but because as you are watching it you find yourself inexplicably at the mercy of Martel's vision. It is not a film that commands your attention because it is high art. And I can sympathize with anybody who dismisses this as art-house masturbation. It is art-house masturbation, but there is something utterly brilliant about it. I am not sure I get the whole thing, but I can assure you that it is the best representations of guilt I have seen in a film since Haneke's Cache (2005). And I'm not praising it because it is 'art', but because it is actually pretty fantastic.

Driving back from a family gathering, Vero runs over something with her car. Deep in shock, she looks at her rearview mirror and drives off. We see that she ran over a dog, which we saw playing with some kids before. Did she also run over one of those kids? Her guilt gnawing on her conscience, she tries to continue her routine. In fact, she comes to terms with what happens and talks openly about it to her family - conveniently avoiding her suspicion that she might have run over a young boy as well. When she opens up to her husband, he takes the matter in his hands to confirm that no kid was involved in the accident.

Martel's placement of camera is unique in that in every shot, we find ourselves deep in Vero's psyche. We are not seeing things from her physical point of view, mind you, but 'experiencing' her guilt as the thin plot progresses at a slow but steady pace. There are moments you feel you are trapped in a void and the claustrophobia is unnerving.

There are little touches of sub-plots that never really develop into anything, but they never feel out of place either. Vero has a one night stand with her cousin, which suggests incest. But then he might be her brother-in-law - which doesn't make the situation any better. Then her lesbian niece, who suffers from and unnamed illness, has the hots for her too. Her little brother drinks from the same cup as his  sister. Is he going to be sick too? There are suggestions that Vero herself might have paedophiliac tendencies, or maybe she wants to be charitable to kids living in poverty. There is a subtle socio-political undertone to the film as well - Vero and her middle-cass white family vs. the sparse and poor indigenous population of Argentina.

The strange thing is, she might not even be guilty - and there are plenty of signs that woud prove that. And plenty more that would prove otherwise. You see where I'm getting here? This is as labyrinthine as it gets.

I won't  recommend it to anybody and chances are it's not playing anywhere near you, but I can say that this was one of my most memorable experiences in a cinema. A masterpiece? A personal favourite? I can't say for sure, but perhaps that is the whole point.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails