One little murder and all hell breaks loose in the mind of a middle-aged, statuesque Argentine woman. In a brief moment of absent-minded driving, Vero strikes something on a dirt road. Two crashing noises. Two small hand prints on the window. And one dog that looks mysteriously like a child that looks mysteriously like a dog left on the road. I have enough problems with perfectly sane women, so the rest of the movie is like my nightmare.
There’s a good long history of stately blond women in turmoil. Kim Novak in Vertigo, Monica Vitti in every Antonioni movie, Gena Rowlands in every Cassavetes movie, etc. When Vero dyes her hair a boisterous blond at the beginning of the film, we’re clearly being pushed into this tradition.
The movie, like a lot of movies from Argentina, re-contextualizes some of the country’s national concerns. Vero completely ignores the boy she might have killed, choosing instead to go about business as usual, even though the shame has rendered her nearly mute. This is a clear look at the lingering effects of the political “disappearances” of the late 70’s.
It’s also a movie about class. Vero’s house is periodically visited by a boy looking for chores to do, cars to wash. Vero elects, probably without thinking much at all, never to address the boy personally but only through one of the maids. In one scene, she even shouts down from the second floor to “get the boy some food.” Each interaction between Vero’s upper-class family and the local townspeople is like a social car crash – unavoidable, unwanted, forced.
It’s also a movie about sex. Vero’s anguish leads her to a moment of adultery and possibly incest. Her lesbian niece has a strange infatuation with her. The adult males all seem to shrug off her clearly troubled self in bits of believable apathy. Nothing more macho than ignoring your wife, after all.
All of these things unfold in the background. Up front it’s a quiet, cautious, deliberate, and painfully hands-off film. Watch it with one eye asleep and you’ll miss everything. Dig deeper and it’s a dense mystery, even a political thriller of sorts, minus of course, the thrills. When all is said and done, if you’re completely without answers, remember the hair. The key to the movie is hidden inside that blond bird’s nest.
The SFFS presents The Headless Woman through Thursday at the Sundance Kabuki. Info.