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Headless Woman [DVD]
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Acclaimed Argentinean filmmaker Lucrecia Martel steps back behind the camera for her third feature film with a mysterious and intriguing tale of a bourgeois woman (Maria Onetto) who when driving alone on a dirt road, becomes distracted, and runs over something. In the days following this jarring incident, she is dazed and emotionally disconnected from the people and events in her life. She becomes obsessed with the possibility that she may have killed someone. The police confirm that there were no accidents reported in the area and everything returns to normal until a gruesome discovery is made. Lucrecia Martel s third feature examines the intricacies of class status and the role of women in a male-dominated society.
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Anyone who has seen the 1960 Antonioni masterpiece/debacle 'L'avventura' may relate certain themes in these two films. An 'incident' occurs in the first act of both films which is then alluded to throughout, until gradually becoming less focused on by the characters and as a result the plot itself. Both films masterfully depict their female protagonists as women 'lost'. Lost in their own privelleged lives with just a feeling of guilt keeping their pulses going.
To look at the headless woman as a film where 'nothing happens' is on the surface a fair enough assumption, but when you delve into the underlying themes of the movie it becomes a quite startling portrayal of mental health, identity crisis and family. Is the protagonist suffering an identity crisis in which there is no escape or is it simply mental trauma from an incident which may or may have not happened. As someone who isn't a highly educated film critic I can only speculate what the true meaning of the film and its protagonist is, but as a fan of Avant-Garde film I highly recommend this. Especially to those who enjoy films about identity (Persona, Mulholland Drive, L'avventura, Vertigo)
This film is either a masterpiece in subtext and human psychology or just a pointless mystery to itself and the people watching it. Overall this film is deeply unsettling upon first viewing. You are constantly waiting for some sort of reveal, just as we did upon seeing 'L'avventura' for the first time. We are continually looking out for 'Anna' around every corner as the cinematography teases us making us expect to see one thing just to be let down by a shot of something completely different and seemingly unrelated to the story.
The Headless Woman is a film appreciated more after analysis. You realise the strangely profound effect it has had on you, yet you're not sure why. Just like Monica Vitti's character in 'L'avventura' we have seen the protagonist go through a 'mental journey' (bit of a cliché). This film seems to follow that idea but with much more focus on the psychological aspect of a character. Leaving the viewer with what could be described as the most uneventful and tame but profound psychological dramas/mysteries ever.
In the end though, nothing actually happens...
As an arthouse film for those of a contemplative disposition - five+ stars
As a film for the casual viewer - one star.
The heroine was particularly well-played.
In the film Maria Onetto brilliantly plays Veronica a middle aged dentist, who whilst momentarily distracted at the wheel of her car hits a large object in the road. Is it a dog or is it a person? There is a telling close up of Vero as she struggles to compose herself, whilst clearly on the brink of complete panic. It is never clear what the object in the road is, and we don't get to find out as she drives away. We then follow Vero as she struggles to carry on with the normality of her ordered family life. But the trauma of the accident has clearly affected her psychologically and she seems to become more and more detached from those around her. There is tension in every phone call, which holds the fear that her dark secret will become exposed.
As the study of a person on the verge of a complete mental breakdown, this is indeed a masterful film, helped by the best female performance I have seen in a long time. Maria Onetto's subtle and studied performance is simply superb. She is the glue that holds the fabric of the film together! The directors clever use of camera angles, shots of torsos and ghostly out of focus figures in the background, all add to the increasing sense of detachment and anst that the lead character is undergoing. There is certainly much to admire in this film, and I would disagree with those who thought it pretentious. Okay it does not always make riveting viewing, but it appears to my simple mind to be a genuine attempt to push the boundaries of cinema and give us something different to chew on, instead of the normal ham egg and chips film. It is an innovative and intelligent look into the the almost disembodied and tortured mind of an individual suffering crippling disorientation as a result of trauma and guilt. It is not an easy watch, and can seem baffling at times, but does reward the patient and open minded viewer.
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