Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Headless Woman

The Headless Woman – Lucrecia Martel – DVD (28/4/12) The film manages to take a potentially simple occurrence and swamp its subsequent aftermath and telling with a complex, unsettling, compelling and disorientating atmosphere. The film follows the life of Verónica, an upper class Spanish woman who, at the very start of the film has a car accident. We see her look in the wing mirror at what appears to be the slumped body of a (now dead) dog, presumably the cause of the car’s abrupt halt and a resulting ominous thud. From this moment on, her character becomes ambiguously detached from her day-to-day existence, seeming remote, anxious and melancholy. Our viewing experience matches Verónica’s altered mentality after the accident: it becomes a film in which certainty is replaced by a haunted suspicion and we are left wondering what exactly did happen? Did she hit a dog – or, when she confesses to having killed someone do we believe her? Is she loosing a grip on reality, or is her reality unhinged by a trauma now repressed? We begin to inhabit the same space of paranoia and isolation, never quite at ease with exactly why, or even who. The film manages to remain compulsive without ever delivering the action, explanation or resolution that a conclusive clarity or understanding aches for. Much of the film’s power radiates from María Onetto’s central performance as Verónica. She conveys the distress of her emotional instability with a helpless poignancy, carrying the suffering of an event which remains unknowable while enacting, with naturalistic and understated expression, the quiet desperation of a damaged mind struggling against a trauma which evades understanding or satisfying reconstruction. The film consequently becomes indirectly suggestive of both Lynch’s Mullholland Drive and Bergman’s Persona, however without the undercurrent of surrealism, in its depiction of a woman’s descent into psychological disarray. It lingers long after watching and, for all its lack of action and cinematic adrenaline, builds an impressively original and disturbing atmosphere. 9/10

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