Saturday, May 20, 2017
2017 Cannes Marathon: The Holy Girl
(Played in Competition for the Palme d’Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Lucrecia Martel, La nina santa (The Holy Girl) is the story of a young woman who meets a troubled doctor at a medical conference at a hotel where she hopes to help him from himself. The film is a multi-themed film that explores a young woman coming into adulthood as she discovers sexuality as well as dealing with aspects of her own faith. Starring Mercedes Moran, Carlos Belloso, Alejandro Urdapilleta, Juliet Zylberberg, and Maria Alche. La nina santa is a mesmerizing and provocative film from Lucrecia Martel.
Set in a hotel at the Argentine town of Salta, the film revolves a 16-year old girl whose encounter with a visiting doctor at a medical conference is hoping to save him as he copes with the work he has to do at the conference. It’s a film that isn’t just about a girl’s exploration with her sexuality but also with her faith as she goes to a religious school where she gets the idea to help this man after he had accidentally groped her when the two were watching a man performing music with a theremin. Lucrecia Martel’s screenplay doesn’t have much of a plot as it’s really more of a study of behavior and attraction with this young woman coming-of-age in not just through her ideas of faith but also becoming aware of her sexuality. Much of it is set in the hotel where this young girl Amalia (Maria Alche) lives at with her mother Helena (Mercedes Moran) and her uncle Freddy (Alejandro Urdapilleta) as they run the place which is struggling to remain afloat.
Martel’s script also play into this growing attraction towards Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso) and Helena as the former is just a visitor for this medical conference as he is also married though is aware of his feelings for Helena. His encounter with Amalia is by sheer accident as he first thinks of her as a prostitute or something unaware that she’s Helena’s daughter. Adding to Amalia’s own growing determination to help Dr. Jano is her fascination with faith and sex is the exploration from her own best friend Josefina (Juliet Zylberberg) who has a boyfriend as she becomes intrigued by the idea of pre-marital sex as well as the idea of miracles after seeing a neighbor fall down from the second floor of their apartment naked and survive.
Martel’s direction is definitely entrancing for some of the compositions that she creates as much of it is set in this dilapidated hotel on location in Salta as well as additional locations near the town in the Salta Province of Argentina. While there are some close-ups that help play into Amalia’s own development in her fascination with sex and faith, much of Martel’s direction rely on medium and wide shots to capture the chaos that is happening with this medical conference as well as the sense of claustrophobia that they’re all in at these rooms in the hotel. There are also moments in the film that is quite offbeat yet intriguing as it relates to Amalia and Josefina’s own interest in miracles but also things that is typical with teenage girls. There aren’t a lot of camera movements in Martel’s direction as it’s more about a scene as it’s unfolding as well as the drama which includes the two first encounters between Amalia and Dr. Jano where they watch this theremin player as it’s just this innocent moment in the film.
Martel also creates moments that definitely play up the theme of sexuality and attraction but it’s only in very subtle moments as there isn’t even a lot of nudity other than a couple of full-frontal shots from men for brief moments. There are a few moments of sex as it relates to Amalia and Josefina with the latter having sex with a boyfriend but don’t reveal anything gratuitous. The dramatic climax which involves Helena and Dr. Jano doing a presentation is more about the tension that is looming between Dr. Jano and Amalia as well as outsiders about rumors involving a visitor and someone at the hotel. Yet, Martel is more about Amalia discovering herself as well as Helena dealing with the attraction she has towards the married Dr. Jano whose family had arrived for this conference. Overall, Martel creates an intoxicating and gripping film about a young woman’s fascination with sex and faith.
Cinematographer Felix Monti does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it’s very low-key to play into the many interiors and lighting for some of the scenes inside the hotel. Editor Santiago Ricci does brilliant work with the editing as it feature some unique rhythmic cutting to play into the drama as well as some of the dramatic suspenseful moments. Art director Graciela Oderigo and set decorator Fernando Brun do fantastic work with the look of the hotel rooms as well as the pool and the classroom where Amalia and Josefina learn about miracles.
Costume designer Julio Suarez does nice work with the clothes as it is mostly casual from the more conservative look of the adults to the looser look of the kids and teenagers. The sound work of Guido Berenblum, Marcos De Aguirre, David Miranda-Hardy, and Victor Alejandro Tendler is amazing for its intricate sound mixing to play into to the atmosphere of the hotels as well as some of the quieter moments in the pool. The film’s music by Andres Gerszenzon is wonderful for its low-key score that is a mixture of piano-based music and ambient-electronic music that adds to the drama while its soundtracks consists of the theremin music and pop music from Argentina.
The casting by Nicolas Levin and Natalia Smirnoff is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Monica Villa as Josefina’s mother, Leandro Stivelman as Josefina’s boyfriend Julian, Manuel Schaller as the theremin player, Marta Lubos as Freddy’s wife Mitra who runs the hotel kitchen, the duo of Arthur Goetz and Alejo Mango as a couple of visiting doctors for conference, and Mia Maestro in a terrific small role as Amalia and Josefina’s teacher. Julieta Zylberberg is fantastic as Josefina as Amalia’s best friend who is also fascinated with the ideas of sex and faith as she goes into her own exploration while keeping secrets for Amalia. Alejandro Urdapilleta is superb as Amalia’s uncle Freddy as a man who is trying to keep his family’s hotel afloat by inviting doctors for a conference as he also copes with the chaos happening at the hotel.
Maria Alche is excellent as Amalia as a 16-year old girl whose encounter with a married doctor has her eager to save him as she’s unaware of what really happened as she is caught between her own desires sexually as well as being loyal to her faith. Carlos Belloso is brilliant as Dr. Jano as a married man troubled by his own place in the world as he finds himself attracted to Helena while dealing with the chaos over the medical conference as well as Amalia’s presence. Finally, there’s Mercedes Moran in an amazing performance as Helena as Amalia’s mother who is dealing with her own loneliness and the state of her family hotel as she connect with Dr. Jano unaware of what is going on with her daughter as it’s this very restrained yet radiant performance from Moran.
La nina santa is an incredible film from Lucrecia Martel. Featuring a great cast and compelling yet provocative premise on faith and a girl exploring her sexuality, it’s a film that doesn’t play by conventions as it showcases what people will do to try and find salvation. In the end, La nina santa is a phenomenal film from Lucrecia Martel.
Lucrecia Martel Films: La Cienaga - The Headless Woman - (Zama) - The Auteurs #65: Lucrecia Martel
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