Known in English language countries as The Headless Woman, Lucrecia Martel’s La mujer sin cabeza is really more of an Argetinian film than anything else; there was some Italian (and French and German) involvement on the production side, but that’s it. Produced by Pedro Almodóvar, among others, this received some very favorable reviews when it played at festivals around the world, and even had a theatrical release in the UK (albeit in February 2010!)
Here’s the Guardian review, by Philip French:
Six years ago the Argentinian moviemaker Lucrecia Martel made an extraordinary movie, La Niña Santa (The Holy Girl), much influenced by Luis Buñuel and Pedro Almodóvar, who produced it along with his brother. Set in a town in northern Argentina, it’s a mysterious film with no formal exposition, looking at the world through the eyes of a brooding 16-year-old girl who attends some sort of church school. Her mother owns a decaying, once fashionable spa, seemingly a metaphor for a decaying society, and at the centre of the film is a transgressive act by a doctor that leads to the girl informing on him and betraying a friend.
Martel’s first film since then, La Mujer sin Cabeza (The Headless Woman) is similarly oblique. Once again the viewpoint is subjective and the audience left to infer relationships and work out what’s going on. The plot, however, turns on that familiar movie device that goes back via The Great Gatsby to Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. This is the hit-and-run story, the offence invariably committed by someone of the privileged classes, the victim always from the oppressed lower orders. Verónica (María Onetto), a good-looking, middle-aged dentist, is driving along a country road when she’s distracted by her cellphone and appears to hit something. She breaks hard, bangs her head, sits for a while, looks back and drives on. From then on her life is a nightmare of confusion and guilt, and we are compelled to share her distorted vision.
A child from a peasant family has disappeared in the area and is eventually discovered in a storm drain. Was he her victim? Were the fingerprints on the car’s window his or those of her own child? With a touch of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, all records of her visit to the hospital, her stay at a hotel that night and any marks on the car have disappeared, the work of a male conspiracy involving her husband, her lover and a relative. It’s an intriguing film, more alienating than involving, that ends abruptly and in my view unsatisfactorily. Some people whose opinion I respect regard it as a masterpiece, but after a single viewing I can’t share this view.
As this isn’t really an Italian film, I’m not going to cover this in any more depth, intriguing though it sounds!
Here’s the trailer: