The Headless Woman is a scrupulously crafted, thematically sound social critique masquerading as a character study that, to put it bluntly, is so affected and emotionally inaccessible as to be borderline intolerable. Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel’s (The Holy Girl) film is marked by fastidious technical dexterity, her fragmented framing, pressing close-ups, and focus shifts helping to lend the action a heightened sense of literal and moral disorientation. Her story centers on Vero (María Onetto), a middle-aged affluent woman who suffers some sort of mental breakdown – which, for a good while, seems to be outright amnesia – after accidentally running something over on a barren, dusty road. Was it a dog (as a quick rearview mirror image implies), or one of the three young boys whom director Martel had previously shown goofing around on that very same stretch of road? The Headless Woman doesn’t let on, or for that matter even initially suggest that Vero’s confused condition is born of guilt over her belief that she’s killed a child, with the film – oblique to the point of inspiring apathy – simply following her as she sleepwalks through her dreamlike affluent life as a dentist, a wife, and an adulterer. Vero’s blithe indifference to the constantly present darker-skinned help delicately conveys the story’s social-critique undercurrent. Yet such delicacy is habitually accompanied by pretentiousness, as the director’s refusal to even cursorily humanize her protagonist (Vero remains, throughout, an empty symbolic vessel), when matched by her spatially impressive but elaborately mannered compositions, eventually proves wearisome, transforming the somnambulant tale into an exercise in endurance.
(2008 New York Film Festival)