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The Auteurs Daily: Three Husbands and One Headless Woman

The Auteurs Daily

The Headless Woman

"Like my other films, The Headless Woman doesn't end in the moment that the lights go up, it ends one or two days later," Lucrecia Martel tells Chris Wisniewski in Reverse Shot.

"In each of Martel's first three features, a mysterious incident confounds characters and viewer alike, setting a tone that the Argentine director sustains yet also narratively subverts," writes Eric Hynes at indieWIRE. "In La Ciénaga a woman falls onto her wine glass as drunk swimsuited houseguests fail to notice or care about the bloody mess; in The Holy Girl a man presses himself sexually against an impressionable young woman in a crowd; and in The Headless Woman, Martel's latest knockout, Vero (María Onetto) hits something on the road, reacts strangely, then forgets herself."

"When each successive film from a new, audacious talent seems richer and more rewarding than the one before, it can sometimes be hard to tell whether the director is steadily improving or it's simply taking you some time and effort to learn how to watch his/her movies." Mike D'Angelo, writing at IFC, "officially surrender[s]. Maybe she's finally put it all together, maybe I'm just slow - either way, this is one stunning piece of work."

"Great films," writes Melissa Anderson for Artforum, "have the power to unspool as dreams or nightmares; only the most exceptional, like Martel's third feature, can make a spectator feel as if she is in a slightly concussed state."

"As dense and fluid as Martel's movie is, the viewer - like the protagonist - is compelled to live in the moment. And a rich moment it is." J Hoberman in the Voice: "With its shallow focus, chiaroscuro lighting, off-centered wide-screen compositions, and constant background noise, The Headless Woman teems with life."

Andrew Schenker: "The whole thing's disorienting, but it's absolutely precise in its rendering of disorientation - an achievement enhanced by the audio mix which isolates certain sounds, mutes others and generally keeps things off balance."

"The spookiness of the senses is [Martel's] subject," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine, noting the "the spirit of Vitti-era Antonioni" here.

Writing in Time Out New York, where David Fear, too, talks with Martel, Keith Uhlich finds "a psychological snapshot of a person forever doomed to remain a voyeur to her own life, something a climactic change of hair color (a hilariously Hitchcockian flourish) can only outwardly fix."

Onetto's "performance simply rivets," writes James van Maanen.

"You could say The Headless Woman is a meditation on Argentina's historical memory," suggests Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "It subtly compares Verónica's silent disavowal of responsibility for any crime she might have committed with that country's silence during its dictatorship, when suspected dissidents disappeared. In interviews Ms Martel has suggested that The Headless Woman is about Argentina's refusal to acknowledge a widening economic disparity between the middle and lower class. And the scenes of light-skinned Argentine bourgeoisie interacting with darker-skinned workers suggest that the two classes are mostly invisible to each other."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Martel "about turning nightmares into films, her fascination with water and the Spinoza quote that encapsulates her worldview."

At New York's Film Forum through September 1.




In the L Magazine, Cullen Gallagher explains why Sony's release of the 142-minute version of John Cassavetes's Husbands (1970) in its proper 1.85:1 widescreen ratio is quite a big deal. Then: "Husbands is an essential companion piece to A Woman Under the Influence, made four years later. To see one without the other is to get only half of the story of domestic discontent pushed to its limits."

"Let's face it, grown Americans don't really act like this, at least not for more than one drunken, embarrassing moment at a time, and Cassavetes knew it," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC. "He was pursuing a hyperportrait of people under pressure, an almost hypothetical vision of what middle-class folks - parents, mostly - would do if their firewalls failed and their anxieties, fears and frustrations bubbled to the surface like lava."

"Some say it's one of the messier or more troublesome Cassavetes films, maybe not the best place for the uninitiated to start," notes Josef Braun. "That may be true, yet so much of what makes Cassavetes great is present and accounted for: the scenes that we crash into with no buffering transitions, that seem to go on and on with no direction until some startling emotional truth just happens before out eyes, where humour erupts out of the bursts of craziness and someone's always shouting over someone else, often to tell that person, however dubiously or confusedly, that they love them."

"Intentionally exhausting and painful, the film was subtitled 'a comedy about life, death, and freedom' during its original theatrical run, but it's less funny-ha-ha or funny-strange than funny-agonizingly-sad," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

For more, turn to Andy Lauer's roundup at indieWIRE.

Coupla more DVDs: Ishiro Honda's films, "particularly when seen in their uncut, Japanese-language versions," writes Dave Kehr, reviewing Icons of Science Fiction: Toho Collection for the NYT, "retain a charm and earnestness that few digital age monster movies - exemplified by the disastrous 1998 remake of Godzilla - can approach." More from Sean Axmaker and Glenn Erickson.

And in Slant, Eric Henderson on Playtime: "Jacques Tati's glorious film folly looks inches that much closer to the 70mm ideal in Criterion's new Blu-ray."

For more news and tips throughout the day, follow @theauteursdaily.


Updates: The Headless Woman is "absolutely mesmeric, very apt to repay repeat viewings, and while it does make some very potent points, it does so seamlessly, without any hectoring," writes Glenn Kenny. "One thing I see that the reviewers talking about it today are missing is how weirdly funny it is. Which it is."

"Why do I admire Martel's film and appreciate it but still feel underwhelmed by it?" asks Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail.

Karina Longworth offers one possible answer at the SpoutBlog: "Antonioni's films revolve around questions like, 'Is my beautiful life sheltering me from the truth, and if so will sex make that better?' Martel's film asks, 'Is my beautiful life sheltering me from the truth, and if so can I live with not being able to do much about that?' Martel's film does offer the darker, more realistic vision of Our Existential Trap, but for the viewer this cuts both ways. There is no false out, but there is also no pleasure."



Updates, 20/8: The Headless Woman "in some ways persists like a headwound head-trip, a blurry surface of dim forms that shift between numbness and guilt," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, "but there is method to Martel's hysteria."

Martin Tsai in the Critic's Notebook: "Although it's merely 87 minutes long, The Headless Woman will leave you completely stunned with your jaw dragging the floor. Yep, it's that awesome."



Updates, 21/8: "The prevailing joke of Martel's class commentary is that Onetto is rendered incapable of doing anything for herself, yet nobody picks up on it because underlings cover her at every juncture," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "That may sound like heavy-handed social satire, but The Headless Woman is anything but; Martel staunchly resists such facile point-scoring, and adds real depth and mystery to a heroine who might otherwise have been monstrous."

Eugene Hernandez interviews Martel at indieWIRE.



Updates, 22/8: Anthony Kaufman at IFC on Martel's use of shallow focus: "[W]hile Hollywood directors, past and present, used the long lens to make glamorous stars pop out from the background, and New Hollywood filmmakers racked focus to dramatically call attention to different parts of the frame, today's auteurs are bringing those blurry backdrops to the fore. Instead of disregarding what's not in focus, viewers are forced to reckon with the miasma that lurks behind or envelopes the characters."

The NYT's Dave Kehr sets Husbands and Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) next to each other: "Men carouse; women clean. There's nothing revolutionary in that observation, but what's fascinating about these two films is how the filmmakers borrow behavioral clichés from the opposite camp. Cassavetes's men seem to be pure creatures of emotion, insisting on expressing their feelings for one another in the messiest, most public ways possible. And Jeanne remains a model of macho restraint, bottling up her feelings and barely speaking even to her son. Where Cassavetes's characters are almost excessively in touch with their emotions, Ms Akerman's heroine exists in a state of nearly complete repression that leads to violent consequences at the film's conclusion."


Update, 27/8: In its combined boorishness and anomie, Husbands mashes Eugene O'Neill with a Rat Pack flick gone Antonioni," writes Tom Carson for GQ. "The two or three generations of DIY filmmakers who revere Cassavetes as their home-grown John the Baptist have lots of good reasons.... All the same, any admirer who thinks Cassavetes's films achieve the oh-the-humanity profundity they hunger for may just have internalized his aggressive self-romanticization."


It’s fun to see critics try to reason their way out of not liking Martel’s movie, which is clearly so beautifully and thoughtfully made that it puts critics on the defensive in finding odd rationale’s for why it didn’t engage them. “No pleasure”? In the film or of the film? Because I don’t see why the former matters, and the latter is untrue.

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