Many moons ago at the now defunct Women in Cinema film festival (also put on by SIFF), I saw this weird amazing movie from Argentina called La Ciénaga. I have never met anyone since who had even heard of the film, so I was thrilled when SIFF decided to honor its director Lucrecia Martel as one of its Emerging Masters this year. I snapped up a ticket to her new film The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza) (6/8) as one of my must-sees, and was not disappointed at this latest vision from the intriguing director.
The film opens with some tween boys playing on a dirt road with their dog. The day is dry and dusty, and the canal next to the road is dry as a bone. Cut to another group of folks packing up and getting into their cars, kissing each other goodbye, and getting on with their day. Vero (María Onetto) drives off, takes a turn down the unpaved road, and hears her cell phone ring in her bag on the floor. She bends down to reach for this, and there is a sickening heavy thunk-bump-bump as her car hits something and runs over it. Stunned, she pulls over and stops her car. She sits there a full minute (this is all real-time) before she even glances in her rearview mirror and we see (from her perspective) the body of the dog. She starts the car and drives off. It starts to rain.
The perspective of the film focuses intently on Vero. We see her go to the hospital, and she is asked to fill out a form, but somehow manages not to. She is given a taxi ride to a hotel where a man visits her and they have sex. She sleeps a lot. She finally is taken to her home by this man. And while this goes on, you as the viewer, find yourself squinting with concentration. This woman really doesn’t know what is going on, does she? She doesn’t seem to know where she lives. She doesn’t recognize her husband (so WHO was the guy in the hotel??). The viewer picks up and pieces together information about Vero’s life as she herself is receiving it, just from the interaction of people in her everyday life. The shocking thing is that no one seems to notice that Vero is suffering from shock-induced amnesia. In the meantime, as Vero slowly pieces together the bits of her life, and maybe starts to remember, she suddenly wonders if she not only killed a dog with her car, but a boy as well.
I thought The Headless Woman was a fascinating (if slow moving, even at only an hour and a half) character study. Maybe everyone did not feel the same way, as I heard a man voting with his ballot, complaining to the usher that, “There’s no zero! I don’t want to give this a vote of one to five! This movie was TERRIBLE!” I have to say, I disagree. I’m excited to see more films by Martel.
EXTRA TIDBIT: Lucrecia Martel was not at the screening to receive her Emerging Master award, but SIFF decided to award a special Golden Space Needle award to Strand Releasing, the independent film distribution company that is celebrating 20 years of existence. The surprise was that Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin, The Living End) was there to be pulled from the audience (drunk, he claimed) to say a few words in appreciation of Strand’s work through the year. So we got the bonus of seeing an acclaimed indie director that was completely unrelated to the film we were seeing! Well, alright!