“When I write characters, I never think of their psychology because I know nothing about psychology. I prefer to think of the characters as children who are pretending to be adults.”
‘The Headless Woman’, directed by Lucrecia Martel in 2008, is a psychological thriller with hints of fantasy and satire. María Onetto plays Verónica, an upper-middle class Argentine woman who accidentally hits ‘something’ with her car. Stricken with a kind of concussive guilt she enters a fugue state in which nothing makes sense and the people around her begin to act strangely. It’s filmed in a deceptively straightforward way, realistic without extra-diegetic music and with under-played performances, but the film is threaded with weird and ghostly effects. After the collision, we see in the background the marks of a child’s hands on the window; some characters are out of focus, floating ethereally in the background. The plot is opaque, Martel does not spoon-feed information to the audience so many of the implications of what is happening to Verónica are left up to the imagination of the viewer, but the inclusion of little fantastical clues transforms the film into a kind of treasure hunt. It’s also a film about conspiracy and cover-up – it becomes clear that the men in Verónica’s life are acting in her interest to conceal the full extent of her accident from both the authorities and, importantly, from her. The unwillingness of the central character to even explore what has happened not only explains the title, but also acts as a possible metaphor for the way a country acts under a military dictatorship. As such, Verónica’s adventure becomes a tight and psychological condensation of a national anxiety.
Would I recommend it? Yes – maybe with Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’, a film that is a similar combination of a thriller and a psychological fantasy, and also one that shares a great deal of imagery and pacing.