Having dismissed one New York Film Festival selection about an Argentinian yesterday, I’m pleased today to promote another. If Steven Soderbergh’s Che wasn’t worth your time, director Lucrecia Martel’s A Headless Woman most certainly is (it plays this evening at the Ziegfeld Theater; amazingly it isn’t yet sold out). Martel’s previous feature, Holy Girl, the story of a teenage girl who tries to spiritually redeem a middle-aged pervert, premiered at the 2004 edition of NYFF and was a critical favorite the following year, when it got a full theatrical release here. Unfortunately, if early reactions—like that of the New York Times‘s Manohla Dargis—are any indication, A Headless Woman isn’t going to receive the same kind of love. While praising its “exacting formalism and beauty,” Dargis writes that the “tour de force” opening scene is so strong as to render “the next 80 or so minutes moot.”
One reason that so many reviewers have seemed baffled by the movie is that the titular Argentinian is no less a mystery to us at the film’s end than she was in that bravura opening scene. The original Argentinian title, la mujer sin cabeza, is an expression for a woman who has no sense, and it aptly describes the flighty behavior of dentist Veronica, who in the movie’s opening minutes runs over something or someone on a dirt road, and immediately drives off to avoid accountability.
I could go on for days about how brilliantly Martel captures the enigmatic psychology of her South American nation (Argentina has a higher per capita rate of shrinks than in any other country in the world except its neighbor, Uruguay) but what’s striking is how relevant this movie is to American audiences. A film about the psychological and moral costs of silence, denial, and covering-up, A Headless Woman has more to say about life in George Bush’s America than any homegrown feature issued this year.—Benjamin Strong