Though I have only seen two of her films, The Headless Woman (2008) and The Swamp (2001), I think it is safe to say that Argentinian director/writer Lucrecia Martel has taken up the mantle of exploring the existential crisis of the idle rich much like Luis Bunuel and Michelangelo Antonioni so deftly did throughout their careers.
A pair of boys and a dog are paying in an empty canal by a dirt road. Soon, a middle-aged bourgeoisie woman, Veronica/Vero (María Onetto), distractedly drives by and violently hits a bump. She looks in her rear view mirror and sees a dog lying in the road. Upset, she stops for a moment, then goes to the hospital where she gets her head scanned. Something is not quite right with Veronica. She walks away from the hospital without filling out her forms. She avoids speaking much, just blankly smiles while others chatter around her. It is like she is sleepwalking through her life. She confesses to her husband that she thinks she may have run over and killed a child. A local boy is missing. A body is drug from the canal. Life continues around her but without her.
On the surface, one would assume the central aspect of the film is whether or not Veronica actually hit the child or just believes she hit the child. But, The Headless Woman just uses that mystery (which is left ambiguous and unresolved) as a linchpin to explore guilt and the ennui of the pampered social class. Veronica's stunted emotional reaction is an extension of a deeper spiritual paralysis. Hers are days consumed with empty errands, being mollycoddled, gossiping, and having a tawdry affair. She has a moment of crisis and a visible breakdown but those around her do not even notice. She's like an invisible zombie amongst them as they continue their business as usual. When she confesses and her husband is forced to acknowledge the event, the male members of the family quickly cover everything up and dismiss her anxiety. It's not even a bookmark in their lives, it's a barely folded corner of the page.
María Onetto is amazing and, no mistake, the film is a one woman show. She has so much to say while reacting very little, her large wet eyes and smile-that-isn't-a-smile perfectly capturing Veronica's silent tortured malaise. It is a difficult film to shoulder, she has to fade in the background yet be in the foreground.
Lucrecia Martel creates an amazing sense of mood, paranoid, off kilter, dour, yet painted with naturalism. Her unobtrusive camera always keeps Veronica within in the frame in tight close-ups or slightly out of focus as everyone bustles around her. Small moments speak riches about self-condemnation and the difference in social classes, be it between lowly workers and the rich or between women and men: Veronica reacting to a knocked out child on a playground, listening to her husband and brother in law matter of fact conspiratorial talk as they look over her car for damage, or Veronica nervously doting over a boy the family hires to do chores.
The DVD: Strand Releasing.
Sometimes Strand can really drop the ball but here they have a pleasing Anamorphic Widescreen transfer. No glaring tech problems like ghosting or macro blocking. Pic is purposefully drab with muted environs, represented well by the clean print that only every so often shows signs where the details like sharpness, grain level, and contrast could use some refining or a DVD9 boost.
The sole 2.0 audio Spanish language track definitely isn't aiming for much in terms of dynamism. This is a quiet film and the subtle atmospherics and overlapping dialogue are still clear and responsive. Subtitles are default English, appear to be well-timed and translated, but, unfortunate for bilinguals, are also non-removable.
Extras boil down to two options, the original trailer and a Q&A session (35:34) with director Martel at a UCLA screening. While the Q&A is mostly engaging and informative, it is technically very sub par with terrible audio (low, distorted, lots of camera and crowd noise).
The Headless Woman is an assured piece of psychological cinema that manages to be rewardingly obtuse. A great combination of surface simple execution with a theme that is quite dense as it can be interpreted in many ways. The DVD presentation is pretty basic, but I'll recommend this one based on the film alone.