The Headless Woman

Director: Lucrecia Martel

Release: 2008

Rating: 6 out of 10

Being left cold after a film viewing is something of a complaint I never really understood up until now. So a film’s supposed to register with you on all emotional levels? Seems a bit more of a personal problem then one the film actually has. What’s changed my views on this was my icy opinion of The Headless Woman, a film I was somewhat enjoying, but felt shut out by how it progressed.

The film follows Verónica (María Onetto), the said headless woman, who has recently hit something with her car, with it appearing to be a dog. Some doubt begins to kick in however, and it seems like a child may have been hit instead. What has been struck by the can doesn’t really matter. All that does is the guilt Verónica tries to suppress from this action and how she slowly becomes unhinged from reality.

If one knows anything about the atrocities committed over the years in Argentina to the aborigines, the film can be seen as a metaphor for the historical repression of guilt. Like the Argentinian government, Verónica chooses to ignore any feeling of remorse for her actions. Her rich family encourages this behavior, but noting she does can help her move past the horrendous thing she’s done. It haunts her, and in the film’s most poignant moment, she visits a dying relative with dementia. This relative speaks of the voices in her furniture, the ghosts that inhabit her house. Trying to ignore these voices is all one can try to do in the end.

This would make for some riveting psychoanalytical exploration over the haunting nature of guilt, but the film seems pleased at stopping at the above mentioned metaphor. We seldom understand Verónica beyond her status and basic mental state. Compositions cut off the heads of others, asking who’s the crazy one her: the ones oblivious or the one who understands? It leaves the film feeling empty however, with most other characters being just as underexposed or flat-out nonentities.  For stretches the film has the power to unnerve, with subtle uses of audio tampering or focusing techniques to create an out-of-body experience. Two instances of lighting (one outside and one in) come across horrifically, highlighting the weakening psyche of our lead.

It could just be my low understanding of the Argentinian history beyond its most basic measures, and I’m willing to give the film another look after my education. Until then, this all seems too unexplored for me. A chilling topic, and one that deserves a more richly explored treatment.

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