The Headless Woman
Directed by: Lucrecia Martel
Written by: Lucrecia Martel (screenplay)
Starring: María Onetto, Claudia Cantero, César Bordón, and Daniel Genoud
I glanced at Film Comment’s top films of 2009 expecting to see the usual: The Hurt Locker, Precious, Avatar, and Up in the Air. Other than the first one, I saw none of them in the top twenty. Occupying the number two slot on that list, which polls many of the countries most prominent film critics, was this unassuming low budget picture from Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel.
The Headless Woman follows Veronica (María Onetto), a wealthy dentist who hits something- maybe a dog, maybe a child- with her car. She stops for a moment on the dusty road, but does not get out. The guilt plagues her, destroying her image of herself and making her an alien in her own life. The premise doesn’t allow for much in the way of story, but this is an excellent character study.
As the film takes its 87 minute course, we see Veronica (Vero for short) disassociate completely from her privileged life and adopt that of a fugitive. Martel’s gift as a director is making us feel her paranoia and see her crippling guilt with every painstakingly outlined shot. We often see a frame divided, with Vero on one side and life happening on the other. Though this film was made for nothing, it is rich in imagery that is both beautiful and haunting.
María Onetto is excellent as the main character. Before the accident, she is an affluent, chatty matriarch. After, a crippled soul who can do nothing more than stare at herself in the mirror and wander aimlessly through life. Though there is nothing especially award-worthy in her portrayal, she fits into the narrative of this film quite nicely, as does the rest of the cast.
Martel keeps the film short and mostly to the point, only losing his footing a couple of times. Her movie is one where eyes and glances tell much of the story and characters. Those reading the premise and looking for a suspense thriller will be disappointed, so approach this with a clear mind and you’ll find a nifty execution in indie film making.