Delicate drama mostly shot in shallow-focus close-ups – so delicate that it has pretty much flown right out of my head. I remember some actors rehearsing Shakespeare, a girl with a pirate video delivery service, chance meetings and a dream sequence. And I remember really, really liking it. Katy did not.

Quintin has a great Cinema Scope article about the Argentinean writer/director:

The films take Shakesperean promiscuity to the limit: in the end any actor can play any character—including sex changes—as if all the bodies, the names, and all of Shakespeare’s and Piñeiro’s characters are impossible to distinguish. In Viola, María Villar plays a character named Viola who—in principle—has nothing to do with theatre. But then she meets a girl who is acting in a production of Twelfth Night who asks Viola to be her replacement. In the second act of Twelfth Night, Viola disguises herself as a man called Cesario, but in the play within the film he is called Bassanio, a character from The Merchant of Venice. Any multi-talented member of this magic sect can act, write, or even play music, as is clearly shown at the end of Viola. These endless confusions and exchanges continue on and on in the film. Piñeiro has declared that he doesn’t want to make the kind of film where characters’ paths intersect due to the cleverness of the script, but rather one that allows people to live as they want or as they can. But, in that way, all of these individualists living like monads, trying to succeed in love and art, end up mixing into a symbolic orgy, where film and theatre, men and women, music and literature, work and leisure, dating and talking, are molded into a single entity.

Ver(onica) hits something then continues on. She checks in and out of a hospital and a hotel, has an affair with a guy she seems to know, visits family, all in a daze, following the leads of others. She gets to work at her dental office and sits in the waiting room by mistake. Finally recovers herself enough to get a few words out, and tells her brother that she hit someone. He flies into cover-up mode, and tries to convince her it was a dog – meanwhile a boy’s body is found in a canal near the accident but the papers are saying he drowned.

The camera stays close with Ver (Maria Onetto, amazing, though beaten out by a Brazilian for best actress at Cannes), as she recovers from her shock more and more, starts acting out her life again. She is surrounded in every scene by symbols and reminders: children, cars, her own car with its dented front, Indians (it was a native whom she hit), her phone (she was reaching for it during the accident), the canal, and water – the one time she breaks down it’s when a sink won’t work. Her trauma is effectively conveyed by the filmmaking without going all Eureka-depressive.

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Martel is pointing to class differences (the killed child isn’t important except when his body inconveniences the city by blocking the canal), but isn’t going out of her way to make Ver a villain – she’s in shock, then confesses, then as she recovers and the event seems more ghostly and unsure, she’s not made out to be a horrible person. I wouldn’t say the viewer is meant to be on her side, exactly, but the filmmaker’s sympathies and intentions are hard to pin down. I have watched a bunch of acclaimed depression flicks in a row with Eureka, Songs from the Second Floor and Battle In Heaven and was afraid this would be another feel-bad mopefest, but I thought it was excellent, and it fit my weary, headachy state without losing interest.

Interesting tidbit from Martel, courtesy Salon:

Today in Argentina there’s a very particular situation because our government is in favor of clarifying things in the past, what happened during the dictatorship [of the 1970s]. But the government is completely blind about current times, what’s going on now. So I thought it was interesting to link that blindness about the past to blindness about the present time. That’s why I made some aesthetic decisions. I chose music from the ’70s, and the men have long hair, sideburns. Everything else is from today, the mobile phones and the cars. … It’s not so much to talk about what happened in the ’70s, or a conflict between that time and this time. The movie as a whole is a process of thinking. For me, that’s what cinema is about.

G. Kenny says that after the accident we see a dog behind her car (the same dog the brother finds when he takes her to investigate). I didn’t realize that because of the DVD’s limitations – assumed that the collapsed figure on the road was a kid. The movie opens with a group of kids playing, and later we learn that one of them, who works at a garden equipment store, has gone missing. So whether we see a dog or a boy behind her car, it’s never explicitly shown whether she hit a person or not. No wonder the movie gets comparisons to Cache.

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I risk over-quoting D. Kasman:

While it initially seems that The Headless Woman is after a conventional art-house expressionism, where Vero’s shock renders her mind dull and out of sync with her environment—soft-focus, tight close-ups with fuzzy, unclear backgrounds, and people melting into shadows and off-camera—this ho-hum alienation gradually reveals itself as something else. As Vero goes about her life, regaining a little bit of her mind, the moral and social threat of the potential crime—did she kill a boy and will she be caught—disperses from a threat of action—one of plot—to a threat of tone, a tactile but unidentifiable sense that an unglimpsed, terrifying world has cracked open, if only with the smallest, subtlest of cracks. Something is wrong, and it is hauntingly wrong, but we are never quite sure what. … That Vero feels guilty is clear, but as we gradually pick up out-of-focus children playing in the background of shots it never becomes apparent whether Vero is being haunted by someone’s death or by a possibility for death everywhere. When she gets back in a car, we do not think about the child she killed; all we can think of is that a child could die again. And then Martel layers, casually, suggestions of insanity and incest in Vero’s family.

Everyone talks about the sound design. Must watch with headphones next time.

Martel again, on the “fear of not having a trace…of not existing” after her hotel and hospital records have disappeared: “This is maybe the most political part of my film. I believe that hiding, not just hiding to protect somebody—it’s not so simple—also entails the idea that you are also hiding a part of yourself. That you are actually erasing a part of yourself. You are creating black holes in your life.”

E. Hynes:

With regal calm beneath a nest of dyed blonde hair (a playful nod to Vertigo), Vero carries her beauty and class with comfort and easy entitlement. She’s a dentist, wife and mother, but considering how long it takes for her co-workers and family to notice her altered state, not a particularly engaged one. … Now that she’s mentally, if only temporarily, compromised, Vero’s husband and cousin (another of Martel’s ambiguously amorous family relations) are eager to take charge and whisk the accident away, as well as whatever autonomy she knew before or since. They deny the truth of her experience but give her a cover. She’s the fainter who’s caught, coddled, and controlled; she’s kept safe, but at a cost. “Nothing happened,” they assure her, and the horror is watching Vero accept the easy, life-negating lie as truth.

Tarsem’s previous movie The Cell had a crappy story and bad acting wrapped around a handful of intensely cool but disconnected imagery. This one has a simple but decent story and good acting, with about half the movie being intensely cool imagery, finely intertwined with the rest of the plot. A quantum leap forward!

The gimmick of not having a gimmick (no digital effects, etc) was distracting as hell. We were always “what country do you think that is” or “THAT isn’t a real place is it” or “aha, that’s GOT to be a digital effect” or “is the little girl acting or not, she seems so natural.” From online trivia we learn it’s a remake of a 1981 Bulgarian film and the little girl was often improvising.

Movie itself is a wonder. In Princess Bride’s framing story, grandpa Peter Falk is reading a great, classic storybook, so the bulk movie has to be great and classic, and it lives up – but in The Fall we have an unreliable narrator, suicidal, heartbroken, wasted on morphine, making it up as he goes along. In a sense this makes the story more unpredictable, but it’s also a huge cop-out because if the writing is poor you can say “oh it’s supposed to be poor, didn’t you get that?” And it is kinda poor. Our hero the masked bandit with his lost love and archnemesis kinda fizzles, and his side characters Luigi (“explosives expert” who only uses explosives once, suicidally at the very end), The Ex-Slave and The Indian just make poses and look beautiful against the exotic scenery, getting shown up by the problem-solving Charles Darwin and his pet monkey. So it doesn’t sound too good and it’s probably not, but if you’re gonna throw out images this nice, I’ll let your thin plot slide. Carried over from The Cell we’ve still got some nightmarish imagery too. When their guide The Mystic is captured, being chopped to death with an axe (barely offscreen), crying and repeating the safe word “googly googly”, small birds flying out of his mouth, that’s a thing that gets stuck terribly in my head while I’m trying to sleep.

Movie ends with a montage of Keaton and Chaplin stunt scenes, half of which I recognized, in a belated homage to stunt men (our hero is one, ended up in the hospital with the little girl by falling badly off a bridge). Weird. Nobody I’ve heard of in the cast, which makes sense. If you’re shooting a self-financed movie over four years in 20+ countries, you’re not gonna get many recognizable actors to sign up. However, Lee Pace (our storytelling hero) is now starring in Pushing Daisies.

It’s been a month since I saw this, so I should finally rouse myself into writing something down.

All I knew about the director going in was that his last movie, Nine Queens, was remade as the underrated Criminal, and that after El Aura (only his second feature as director) he died of a heart attack.

This was a fine little genre film (crime/suspense being the genre) but really nothing special. Starting out with the lead character waking up from an epileptic seizure, then in the next scene showing him to be interested in planning “the perfect crime”… you don’t suppose he’ll plan the perfect crime then have a seizure in the middle of it, do ya? So the movie doesn’t strive for unpredictability, but instead it follows this nobody of a character (a not-socially-brilliant taxidermist) as he gets in over his head. The standout parts for me were the setup (our guy accidentally kills the man who was planning a heist, then assumes his identity, in a town where nobody knows who he really is) and ending (taxidermist is back in his normal life, the lone and unsuspected survivor of the totally botched robbery, and all he brought back with him is the original dead man’s dog). Side plots include the seizure thing and our guy’s never-acted-upon desire to save all the abused women he meets. Movie has a really good atmosphere, planting us in a peaceful, wooded hunting town. Was a pleasant viewing experience then. Whatever.