May 21, 2008

Cannes. The Headless Woman.

"Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel is nothing if not subtle," writes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter.

The Headless Woman

"She is also a master of visual and aural technique, which is on full and splendid display in La Mujer Sin Cabeza (The Headless Woman), her third feature. The problem is that, as with La Cienaga and La Nina Santa, her narratives can be maddeningly slight, causing the viewer to struggle to comprehend even basic character relationships or motivations. It's difficult to invest much emotion if you have little idea who's who."

"It's a minor but effective Blow-Up about an upper-class Argentine woman (Maria Onetto) whose life becomes unmoored after she possibly kills a young boy while driving on a country road," blogs the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Onetto's quite special as bourgeoisette who drifts into and then out of a state of heightened clarity, and you can feel the anger burning away under the movie's cool glass surface. Perhaps Martel should have let more of it erupt onto the screen. There may be a cultural disconnect on my part, since the Argentine guys I sat next to during the screening roundly booed it. But movies are a blood sport here; that's part of the sadistic fun."

"Throughout, Martel places the character in shallow focus widescreen close-ups; therein, those people in her periphery—generally servants, workers, and so on—are diffused, hazy," writes Glenn Kenny. "It's an oblique way of reflecting on contemporary class relations, but it's apt, and in point of fact this is one of the few films in the largely-socially-conscious Competition that reflects on class relations as such."

"Lucrecia Martel asks way too much of the viewer in her third feature, a dour tale of moral and social paralysis centring on a hit-and-run incident in an Argentinian rural backwater and its effects on the woman at the wheel," writes Lee Marshall in Screen Daily. "At first the Latin American auteur's long-awaited new film looks like it is about to build the same edgy mix of family drama, visual symbolism, social critique and menacing atmosphere that distinguished her first two features, La Cienaga and The Holy Girl. But in The Headless Woman, Martel lets the miasma blur the drama and stifle the story. The result is a 'plotless film' that, in its Cannes press screening, prompted walkouts and boos, although many still maintain that the film's advanced symbolic and narrative sudoku is worth puzzling out."

Updates: "Pic's denouement is chilling, but doesn't provide the same kind of enigmatic kicker that graced The Holy Girl," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety. "Despite the guilt theme, thesp Onetto keeps Vero's signs of anxiety so subtle she almost doesn't seem all that bothered. Maybe she's not, and maybe that's the point, but if this is a work of social criticism, indicting the callousness of the rich, it's pretty mild stuff."

"As with Three Monkeys, the plot of this Argentine non-drama makes it sound more interesting than it is," writes Mary Corliss for Time. "The film is inert, visually tiring, utterly lacking in suspense; nothing changes except Onetto's hair color."

Update, 5/22: "Few filmmakers use focus as effectively and incisively as Martel," notes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "Inspired by Martel's dreams and nightmares, The Headless Woman is moody, mysterious and suffused with ominous portents and subtle critiques of the bourgeoisie."

Update, 5/23: For J Hoberman, writing in the Voice, this is "the Best Film in Competition Least Likely to Win a Prize."

Updates, 5/25: Daniel Kasman, writing in the Auteurs' Notebook, finds Martel "refining her utterly precise sense of visual and aural exploration of psychology while keeping the scale of her film smaller than anything else she has done. If the eerie sense of off-screen space and subtle, active sound design in The Holy Girl suggested a director who could make a truly disturbing horror picture, Martel goes halfway to embrace a ghost story."

Andrew O'Hehir talks with Martel for Salon.

Update, 5/29: The Headless Woman is "one of the strongest of a very strong festival," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "Shooting for the first time in wide screen, Martel effects a sense of spatial and temporal dislocation that is close to the phantasmagoric subconsciousness of a David Lynch or Luis Buñuel. As she films her saucer-eyed, peroxide-blond leading lady (Maria Onetto) from a distance, in and out of focus, reflected in glass, we too begin to feel that we aren't quite ourselves, that we are sharing in Veronica's dark, private, waking dream. Most critics, though, were too busy complaining about being confused by the film to realize that this was exactly the point."

Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.

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Posted by dwhudson at May 21, 2008 6:30 AM