Follow clues if you can in ‘Headless Woman’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, October 22, 2009 10:06pm
  • Life

If you like David Lynch-land, if you like a puzzle film, if you value mystery over explanations — we’ve got a movie for you.

“The Headless Woman” is a new film from Argentina’s Lucrecia Martel, whose “La Cienaga” and “The Holy Girl” marked her as a distinctive talent. This one is like a Hitchcock movie watched through a smoked glass window.

At the center of the movie, and usually at the center of the shot, is Veronica (Maria Onetto), an upper-class, middle-aged woman. Something happens to her, or she causes something to happen, while driving her car, early in the film.

We watch Veronica as she drops her cell phone while motoring along a sunny road. As she fumbles for it on the seat, the car suddenly jerks up and down, and we hear a thump.

As though she’s hit something.

But the nature of this impact—and of a possible head injury Veronica might have sustained in the moment — is not going to be spelled out. Instead, we watch her pass through the remainder of the movie, her behavior odd, apparently in a kind of concussed daze.

Is it possible she hit a dog in the road? But what about the human body found nearby, a few days later? Can she remember what happened, or is she conveniently turning away from reality?

Martel has suggested that her films are metaphors for a generation of Argentineans who would prefer to forget the uncomfortable political past. If so, “The Headless Woman” fits the profile: not only does Veronica struggle with remembering, but the people around her seem to be helping her forget, as though closing ranks of privilege around her.

These tantalizing ideas are embedded in a movie that has a slow, dreamy rhythm. “The Headless Woman” doesn’t make anything easy for you, and at times its style is so oblique you might wonder whether you got conked in the noggin yourself.

It’s not so much a whodunit as a wha’happened. Following out the clues makes for a challenging game — you’ll have to keep your head.

“The Headless Woman” ½

Argentina’s talented Lucrecia Martel offers a tantalizing mystery that’s more of a wha’happened than a whodunit. An upper-class woman hits something (or someone?) while driving her car, resulting in a few days of hazy behavior — a puzzle that plays out like a Hitchcock movie watched through a smoked-glass window.

In Spanish, with English subtitles

Rated: Not rated, probably PG-13 for subject matter

Showing: Northwest Film Forum

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