The HeadlessWo­man,

Pasatiempo - - Mov­ing Im­ages -

for ex­am­ple, into the child’s ghostly hand­prints on the driver’s-side win­dow of her car. Or the bus that blows by the chil­dren just be­fore they run across the road. Ar­gen­tine di­rec­tor Lu­cre­cia Mar­tel ( The Holy Girl) doesn’t present us with a fully formed story here, but she gives us a pro­tag­o­nist who knows less about what is go­ing on than we do and the build­ing blocks to con­struct what­ever we like.

It’s a pe­cu­liar set of blocks. Mar­tel and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Bár­bara Ál­varez fre­quently keep Verónica framed at eye level, in medium shots, as the story takes place around her and in the back­ground— of­ten through doors and rain-spat­tered win­dows. Verónica stands out by virtue of her (un­nat­u­rally) blond hair in a so­ci­ety full of dark-haired peo­ple. She doesn’t have much to say. A suc­cess­ful den­tist, she is ex­traor­di­nar­ily pas­sive and seems to have lit­tle in­put or in­flu­ence on the events that di­rectly con­cern her.

For­tu­nately, she has a lot of help. The bus­tle of ac­tiv­ity that sur­rounds her in­cludes a fair amount of in­dige­nous Ar­gen­tine gar­den­ers, ser­vants, and re­tail em­ploy­ees, who linger in the back­ground while as­sist­ing Verónica with the minu­tiae of life. Her aides are not lim­ited to the work­ing class, how­ever. Friends and fam­ily step in to help her cover up the ac­ci­dent. But what ac­tu­ally hap­pened out there on the road? Did Verónica run over a poor boy or a dog?

The HeadlessWomen can be seen as a state­ment on the widen­ing gap be­tween the rich and poor in Ar­gentina. Again, this sub­text sur­faces through the vi­su­als more than through the plot el­e­ment of Verónica’s pos­si­ble es­cape from jus­tice. The up­per class and lower class seem to ex­ist in dif­fer­ent worlds in the same frame, the dif­fer­ence ac­cen­tu­ated by Verónica’s blond hair.

So­cial com­men­tary aside, the movie will most re­mind view­ers of dis­ori­ent­ing fare such as Al­fred Hitch­cock’s Ver­tigo, Ro­man Polan­ski’s Re­pul­sion, and David Lynch’s Mul­hol­land Drive. Those pic­tures also fea­tured blond women who were at the mercy of strange forces around them as they lost their han­dle on re­al­ity ( Mul­hol­land even fea­tured an un­nat­u­ral blonde and a car crash). In the hands of mas­ter­ful di­rec­tors and skilled ac­tors, these movies all sug­gest far more than they say. They use the vis­ual cues of cin­ema to tell sto­ries that couldn’t work in any other medium, and dig for a re­ac­tion that is dif­fi­cult to de­scribe.

Sadly, the au­di­ence for am­bigu­ous cin­ema has been dwin­dling in re­cent years, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. Some peo­ple feel that au­di­ences are get­ting less in­tel­li­gent, but I don’t agree. I do, how­ever, feel that they are get­ting less imag­i­na­tive. Com­puter ef­fects have al­lowed big-bud­get film­mak­ers to put what­ever they want on screen, in rel­a­tively con­vinc­ing fash­ion, so movie au­di­ences no longer need to use their imag­i­na­tions to fill in the gaps left by tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions.

The Head­less Woman (which also fea­tures an end­ing as mem­o­rable as its open­ing) is the kind of movie where you get out of it what­ever you put in. That sen­tence will turn some peo­ple off, and that’s fine— there is noth­ing wrong with go­ing to the movies to un­wind with a pas­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. But con­sider also that at a taut 87 min­utes, where noth­ing on-screen is wasted, The Head­less Woman is great value. But you have to be will­ing to in­vest in it.

Pas­sive voices are heard: María Onetto

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