The Headless Woman

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 January, 2010, 12:00am

The Headless Woman
Maria Onetto, Maria Vaner, Ines Efron
Director: Lucrecia Martel

Part of an exciting batch of young directors emerging from Argentina during the past decade, Lucrecia Martel is well-known for films that lay bare the moral decay marking her home country's middle class.

While her previous two features, The Swamp and The Holy Girl, address the theme in a more direct manner, The Headless Woman thrives in a visual and narrative abstraction that fits perfectly with its story, about a middle-aged woman struggling to make sense of her life after her involvement in what she believes to be a fatal traffic accident on a rural road.

Thrown into a daze, Veronica (Maria Onetto, right) - a well-to-do proprietor of a dental clinic and an object of affection of her husband, her children and her lover - grows increasingly alienated from everyday life, detaching from her professional and personal lives as she tries to understand whether she has actually run over someone that day. Finally, she returns to the scene and finds a dead dog - but all is not what it seems; her life unravels further as disappearances and changes in her life hint at a truth she (and her family) has kept at bay in denial.

While The Headless Woman looks like the most oblique of Martel's films, it actually offers the most cutting social commentary of them all. More than just addressing the racial and class-driven tensions that plague Argentinean society, the story can be seen as the white bourgeoisie's silent oppression of impoverished Amerindians - the film can also be interpreted as showing how the painful memories of the country's dark, military dictatorship years are altered and erased so as to lighten and eliminate the collective guilt of the surviving majority.

With its ability to work on so many levels, The Headless Woman is a brilliant piece that ranks as one of the best films to have emerged from an Argentinean film industry on the upswing.

Extras: Q&A session with Martel; trailer.