Thursday, December 31, 2009

THE HEADLESS WOMAN (Lucrecia Martel, 2008, Argentina) Veronica’s comfortable life is disrupted by the shrill plangency of a cell phone and two distinct thumps: one leaving a corpse and the other a small wound on her head. Director Lucrecia Martel’s dissosiative narrative begins with poor children running with their dog along a dirt road flanked by a flood canal, their social standing concretely reflected in their clothing and mannerisms (they’re literally playing in the gutter), while Martel cross cuts to Vero and her wealthy friends and progeny, preparing to leave a party in their expensive cars: the women are concerned about their makeup and gossip. But one violent moment in Vero’s life changes everything as she drives along this very same dirt road and, momentarily distracted, runs over…something.

Martel never shows us Vero’s perspective; we remain claustrophobic inside her car as a passenger, only a silent witness to her acknowledgment that an accident occurred and her decision to drive away: Vero never leaves the car to see what she struck. Martel cuts to a frontal shot of the vehicle as it accelerates from the scene and we clearly see a dead dog on the road…but is there something else? We know that a child was running with the dog moments before and there is a second indistinct shape near the canal, or is it only a shadow? Later they find a lone sneaker in the same place though the dog’s body has been washed into the underbrush. Though Vero goes to the hospital and has her head x-rayed from the bruise, she doesn’t tell anyone about the crash until she confides in her husband. But her life has become the very definition of DPD or Depersonalized Disorder: she sleepwalks through routines and reacts slowly and in dreamlike fashion, often unable to recognize friends and relatives. She even changes her appearance but is it from fear of being recognized or a symptom of a deeper anxiety? The night of the crash a raging storm engulfs the town and a child’s body is discovered in the canal…but his cause of death is left unexplained. Fearing a criminal investigation, her husband repairs the car and removes all evidence of her hospital visit.
Vero’s reaction may not be all induced by trauma: she visits her mother who is obviously suffering from dementia, and Martel never offers any flashback or insight into Vero’s state of mind before the incident. Though Vero remains an observer as others fix her life, showing little remorse and seemingly only selfish emotion, the story remains frustratingly ambiguous as to her intent: she has become a headless woman on a road to nowhere. (B)