Movie review: The Headless Woman
In the beginning of Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman, all Maria Onetto's Vero has to worry about is whether the local public pool is clean and how her blond dye job looks. Her concerns at the end of the film aren't much heavier. It's the full circle her state of being travels in between that carries weight.
A member of the same decaying Argentinean bourgeoisie that populated Martel's La Cienaga, Vero is a married, middle-aged dentist who, while driving to meet her lover, takes her eyes off the road long enough to hit something.
She doesn't get out of the car to look, but as Vero composes herself and drives away, a long-shot glance suggests her victim could be anything from a stray dog to one of the young boys shown playing in the area shortly before.
Martel ties the audience to Vero's perceptions, to the state of numbed shock that envelops her after the incident, and lets the feeling permeate by cloaking the screen in thick shadows.
Vero comes out of it enough to wonder with increasing agitation whether she hit a person, and alerts her husband. With other men in their family, he encourages a return to emotional remove with false reassurances while making sure that, if the worst did occur, it won't be linked to Vero.
The viewer is left to ponder what the characters won't, the personal and cultural ramifications of believing that tragedy and quiet complicity can be forgotten with some work on the car or a new hair color. Though Martel's written narrative is fragmented and vague, her imagery is strong and precise in its point.
Such an exacting, uncompromising approach is admirable, and Martel's form is occasionally hypnotic. Nevertheless, between viewer and filmmaker exists a relationship, and some could tire easily of a relationship in which one side won't compromise.
"The Headless Woman"
Screens July 24-25 at the Wexner Center