The Headless Woman (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner17/02/2010

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 89 mins

Aimed squarely at arthouse devotees, The Headless Woman is an impressively directed, heavily allegorical drama with a strong central performance from Maria Onetto, but the slow pace and the crushing weight of the film's extended metaphor may prove too much for some tastes.

What's it all about?
Directed by Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl), The Headless Woman stars Maria Onetto as Vero, a bourgeois, middle-aged, married dentist who hits someone or something with her car and drives away without looking back to see what it was. Although she suspects (along with the audience) that she hit a child from the slums, she tells people that it was a dog and blithely sleepwalks through her life in the next few days, continuing her social engagements and even sleeping with her cousin's husband, all without a flicker of concern or remorse.

The Good
Martel's directorial approach closely echoes Vero's seemingly detached mental state, distractedly focussing on random objects during conversation scenes and creating a dreamlike atmosphere throughout. This works well for the first half of the film, where you're constantly wondering if Vero is in shock and will eventually snap out of it, but as the truth dawns, the dreamlike aspects become more frustrating as the metaphor takes over and you realise that Martel's not interested in a satisfyingly dramatic resolution to the story.

The script is heavily allegorical (and will doubtless have much more meaning for contemporary Argentine audiences or those closely familiar with Argentine society) but there's a clear message of societal breakdown and an ignoring of the ever-present underclass – at one point, one character tells another, “If you don't look at them, they just go away.”

The Bad
The extended metaphor of the ignored accident is both the film's biggest strength (in that it's sustained throughout the film and adds extra weight to the eventual ending) and its biggest weakness, in that it starts to feel like you're being bashed over the head with it and every time you see a scene of, say, poor people waiting endlessly for hospital treatment, it feels like overkill. In addition, the painfully slow pacing and lack of dramatic incident makes it very difficult to get a hold on the film.

Worth seeing?
The Headless Woman is a strongly allegorical and superbly acted drama but the weight of the metaphor combined with the slow pacing and the deliberately detached direction may prove too inaccessible for non-arthouse audiences.

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Content updated: 25/04/2019 20:40

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