Metrograph Journal, August 2022
An interview with Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel about her 2008 masterpiece The Headless Woman.
Lucrecia Martel’s feature debut La Ciénaga (2001) opens on a tableaux of middle-aged drunkards sprawled out around a swimming pool turned fetid swamp.
Reeling camerawork submerges the viewer into the subjectivity of an imploding bourgeoisie, so stupefied that, when a woman crashes onto the concrete deck in an explosion of wine glasses and empty bottles, nobody bothers to look up. It’s very funny—until you see the blood.
La Ciénaga is the first film in Martel’s Salta Trilogy, set in the region where the Argentine director was born and still resides today, which before then had appeared rarely onscreen. Martel’s characters sequester themselves from the outside world, in decaying mansions whose borders they think keep the encroaching jungle at bay. Instead, horror becomes hermetically sealed in incestuous families riven by destructive desires.
The trilogy’s final instalment, The Headless Woman (2008), centers on an ambiguous crime. Driving on a dusty road, Verónica (María Onetto) hits something large enough to make a sickening thump. A dog, she reassures herself, without stopping to check. As the film goes on, she suspects she killed an Indigenous boy.
After the accident Veró haunts her life like a ghost, and Onetto remains totally captivating in a taciturn role. Patronizing husbands, brothers, and lovers instead speak for her, insisting she’s had a fright, while quietly and efficiently erasing all evidence. Her social milieu is unveiled as collective delusion, built on the quicksands of colonial fictions.
The more Veró understands, the more her self-image dissolves. She’s often literally decapitated by the frame, fragmented in mirrored reflections, engulfed by dark rooms and imprisoned by domestic architecture (shot through claustrophobic doorways or halls).
Despite her silence, Veró’s bleached bouffant makes her conspicuous in a province of brunettes. Her hair conjures the ghosts of Hollywood blondes, invoking Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak) in Vertigo (1958) and Myrtle (Gena Rowlands) in Opening Night (1977), both women collapsing under the lies they live.
Everyone is complicit here, rendering questions of guilt and innocence immaterial. Veró must instead choose whether to stay blind, or to open her eyes…
Read the full interview here.