The Headless Woman
The Headless Woman (2009)
Dir. Lucrecia Martel
The Headless Woman is one of those films that demands much out of a viewer, asking for complete and rapt attention, and only expecting more questions in return. It’s a film about a woman who may or may not have committed a crime, one that would do nothing to detail here. And clues do indeed pile up throughout the film; something that, if one should so choose, could be a driving force for the search of meaning in this film. I’ve read critics’ insist this film unfolds the very way a detective might unfurl clues in an elaborate case, asking the viewer the become the detective themselves.
To me, however, it’s a film devoted to a dream state, that feeling that occurs as one lowers their head to exhaustive sleep. Everything feels just slightly removed from reality, a haze that isn’t fantastical like a dream might develop into, but a transitional period that still injects genuine logic into the proceedings. The Headless Woman poses its heroine in a series of events occurring after an accident in which the woman in question is left confused and of slight memory loss. The director, Lucrecia Martel, frames the woman in majority under a gauze, either hidden in blurred fragments through frosted glass, through a 3/4 angle that exposes only the contours of her face, or simply shot from directly behind her head. This places the viewer in a situation where we have seen a nakedness in detail not appreciated and given much attention to by those surrounding her, but also not giving us the truth that they typically know from this woman either. We are placed in a unique middle-ground; knowing someone in a very specific intimacy without really ever truly connecting with the person.
There are simply too many questions to ask of this film, ones that range from provocatively thoughtful to possibly inane and useless, but none would be wrong in this instance. Is there a face seen in the reflection of the window after the accident? Who is calling her? Is her showering with clothes on bridging the film to true surrealism a la Mulholland Drive? And the mise en scene is so dense with symbols and allusions it practically demands multiple viewings. But all of this is underplaying the emotional current that drives this film, not to mention the superb tension spun throughout. The best cinematic comparison I can make this to is through the films of Michael Haneke, with an emphasis on Cache. Both are films with unyielding tension, but neither give the viewer a reliable release, that is to say, something to give closure to a mystery that may or may not have been given in full detail in the first place. Maybe it’s not about a mystery, but the feeling of being wrapped up in one without the means or will to fully dedicate one’s self to solving.
This film is in extremely limited release at the moment, but watch out for an eventual DVD. This is easily one of the best films of 2009.