Saturday, May 23, 2015
2015 Cannes Marathon: The Headless Woman
(Played in Competition for the Palme d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Lucrecia Martel, La Mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman) is the story of a middle-aged woman who has an emotional breakdown following a hit-and-run incident that leaves her guilt-ridden and questioning if she really did do something drastic. The film is an exploration of a woman falling apart by something she committed as she starts to wonder what she had hit as the film is also an exploration on mental illness. Starring Maria Onetto, Claudia Cantero, Ines Efron, Cesar Bordon, Daniel Genoud, Guillermo Arengo, and Maria Vaner. La Mujer sin cabeza is an eerie yet engrossing film from Lucrecia Martel.
The film is a simple story about middle-aged woman from a mid-upper class environment who committed a hit-and-run accident as she has no clue what she hit as she starts to unravel in the days following this event. It’s a film that doesn’t have much of plot as it plays into a woman coming apart as she starts to lose her memory while wondering if she did kill someone or something on the way home. During the course of an entire week, the woman named Veronica (Maria Onetto) copes with not just what she had done but also her surroundings as the people around her try to comfort her and such. It’s a film that doesn’t play into a traditional structure other than its first act which establishes who Veronica is and what happened on this day driving from the country into the city where she is from.
After the accident where she seemed to only have a minor head injury, things start to go wrong as she would unravel quietly. Even as her family either doesn’t notice or deny that she even did anything in an attempt to keep things normal. It’s in these moments where the film sort of becomes a mystery but it’s really a drama as writer/director Lucrecia Martel is more concerned about Veronica’s state of mind and her surroundings as it relates to the social divide of where she lived and in the country near the canals where the accident took place. It adds to Veronica’s own sense of questioning about what had happened and if she really did something as her emotional and mental state becomes more troubling. Though the people around her such as her family aren’t bad people, their actions into making Veronica believe that she didn’t do anything wrong really does a disservice to a woman that is falling apart.
Martel’s direction is very low-key and restrained as it is more about a woman that is teetering on the edge as Martel’s approach to framing her actors in a scene and the compositions are more in tune with minimalist filmmaker rather than something more stylish. There are very few moments of style in the film as Martel aims for something that is more intimate and engaging as much of composition are presented in close-ups and medium shots with a few wide shots. Still, Martel is more concerned with what is going through Veronica as she would shoot scenes inside a car as if she was a passenger or focus on something where Veronica is at the edge of the frame while something is happening in the background as she listens. The drama also has Martel play into some of the social divide that occurs as there’s scenes where Veronica is in the car while watching where the working class and the poor live in as it plays to how detached she is.
It is a moment where Veronica wants to do something but she is often forced to go back to her world of comfort and luxury. Martel doesn’t really want to say anything heavy-handed or make some kind of huge social commentary with these scenes. Instead, it plays into the awareness of a world that is very real to Veronica and how the people around her are trying to shield her from any kind of responsibility over her actions despite their good intentions. Overall, Martel creates a very
Cinematographer Barbara Alverez does amazing work with the film‘s very low-key yet colorful cinematography with the approach to interior lighting where it‘s about naturalistic lights as well as some of the nighttime interior/exterior scenes where it maintains a mood into how in the dark Veronica is with her surroundings. Editor Miguel Schverdfinger does nice work with the editing as it‘s very straightforward with a few stylish cuts as it plays more into the sense of guilt and uncertainty in Veronica as much of it involves a lot of long takes and methodical pacing. Art director Maria Eugenia Sueiro does excellent work with the look of Veronica’s home and the quaint home of her relatives as well as the places she and her relatives go to.
Costume designer Julio Suarez does terrific work with the costumes from the posh yet casual clothing that Veronica wears as well as the look of her family and the working-class people who do things for her. The sound work of Guido Berenblum, Paula Dalgarando, and Mariano Rosa is brilliant for the sparse textures of the sound in the locations as well as the scene of the hit-and-run which comes out in a very unexpected way. The film’s music by Maria Ainstein is wonderful as it’s very low-key in various parts of the film as it’s just mostly ambient textures while much of the music in the film is played on location as it ranges from pop to folk music of Argentina.
The casting by Natalia Smirnoff is fantastic as it features notable small roles from Maria Vaner as Veronica’s aunt Lala who often muses about dead relatives, Ines Efron as Veronica’s youngest daughter Candita who is a bit spoiled and moody, Daniel Genoud as her lover Juan Manuel who tries to shield her from what happened, and Guillermo Arengo as her brother Manuel who would fill in for her work as a dentist and to try and cover things up for her. Claudia Cantero is superb as Veronica’s cousin Josefina who would spend time with Veronica while either being oblivious or in denial over what Veronica did. Cesar Bordon is terrific as Veronica’s husband Marcos who is quite caring despite all of the work he has to do as he would use his connections to shield Veronica over what happened. Finally, there’s Maria Onetto in a radiant performance as Veronica as a middle-aged dentist whose life and mental state would unravel following a hit-and-run accident that she possibly had committed as it’s a very eerie and restrained performance of a woman questioning what is happening to her and everything that surrounds her as it is a very chilling performance.
La Mujer sin cabeza is a remarkable film from Lucrecia Martel that features an exhilarating performance from Maria Onetto. The film isn’t just a provocative story of a woman anguished by guilt that would have her lose sight of her world but also it plays into a woman coming to grips with her life and the social divide around her. In the end, La Mujer sin cabeza is a phenomenal film from Lucrecia Martel.
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