‘In the films of Lucrecia Martel, all is not for the best. Each begins with some unpleasant incident, some bacterial episode, that seemingly contaminates the whole stream of the story. There follows ongoing unease for the viewer, and no foreseeable escape for the characters; we’re all stuck in the mess together. The first film opens with a drunken lady by a pool, falling chest-first onto the shards of a wine glass she’s just dropped; she’s rushed off to a medical clinic for stitches, and ends up having her stomach pumped. In the second, a teenage girl stands in a city crowd, watching a bizarre musical performance; a doctor comes along, presses himself against her from behind, then disappears. With the most recent film, the bad start is a possible one, and elevated to the possibly tragic: a dentist runs over something with her car, something sizable she thinks to have been alive, and doesn’t get out to see what it is. ‘Look at the extreme vileness,’ an incongruously beautiful woman sings in one of the films, as if commenting on all of them, ‘that is singing like this today’.
‘Martel is a young Argentine director whose work has been uncannily sure from the beginning. It was on the basis of that first feature, La ciénaga (The Swamp, 2001) that Pedro Almodóvar signed on to co-produce The Holy Girl (La niña santa, 2004), and then The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza, 2008). Though these films have won awards and much praise within the world of cinema, one senses a need on the part of fans to communicate their achievement more broadly. This is partly because, for all their considerable technical appeal (including their use of sound – Martel says she conceives of it before the images), it is the tales that matter, and these tales are fascinating beasts that reward close attention.
‘La ciénaga concerns two related families passing a hot summer in the northwestern province of Salta, where all the films are set. The adults recline by a rank pool, preoccupied with drink, while kids of various ages play, flirt, and fight with one other, or go out hunting on their own. In the midst of this commotion, a sort of spectre emerges in the form of a conversation two mothers have about taking a car trip through the mountains to Bolivia , so as to buy cheaper school supplies for the year ahead. For no particular reason, it just seems like a stupid idea in which someone or everyone involved must die. Yet as the plan is finally dropped, the atmosphere of imminent disaster remains. You know at least one has to occur, because there are just too many lining up to happen.
‘The Holy Girl is a similarly crowded and frenetic movie in style, one in which an old hotel virtually assumes the role of main character. The story covers a week-long medical conference held there, and involves waiting around for a few different scandals to come to a head or not. Chief among them is the business between Amalia (María Alche), the heroine of the title, and Dr Jano (Carlos Belloso), the man who felt her up in the crowd. Amalia becomes fixated on the married doctor and, in a lively paradox, feels herself called to save him from sin. Jano is speaking at the hotel where Amalia lives, but her beautiful mother Helena (Mercedes Morán) runs it, and has her own designs. It might all be a passing fever for the girl, but the infatuation, which serves as an outlet for her precocious mind and religious sense, could mark a dark transformation. Near the end of the film we see the initial street performer – his quirky, spooky music played by conducting his hands in the air above a Theremin – bewitching adults in the hotel. The spirit, as it were, moves in.
‘The Headless Woman is a quieter movie than its predecessors, and different in focusing more exclusively on a single character. Even so, as in all the films, its trouble exists as a kind of communal presence. Did I say the early incidents were like bacteria contaminating water? That is not solely true, for in a way the events reflect what is already latent in the characters, working in the manner of X-rays. It’s an open question, for instance, whether the headless woman wasn’t always headless, or isn’t surrounded by other headless people, her family who live in a bubble of privilege, and instinctively work to cover up the accident. (Whatever may have happened in it – you can tell, I think, though the truth is not so much the point for the protagonist as her behavior in doubt.) In one scene, her husband and cousin get on the phone to a doctor friend to inquire about hospital inpatients. The call is ostensibly about checking facts – perhaps what she saw in her rear-view mirror was a dog, not an Indian child who has gone missing – but the human picture we observe, the unnatural calm of the men, the shadows, all that is not being said, whisper differently, making it a noir moment rich with conspiracy. The ensuing silences have a slightly allegorical quality, hinting at bourgeois acquiescence or willful blindness to other “disappearances,” those of Argentina’s Dirty War.
‘Martel’s characters flit in and out of harm’s shadow as a matter of course. The interest is not in danger as shock value, but in its regular promise and proximity, in the sights and sounds that surround its unfolding. (Though highly distorted, aspects of this world are scrupulously exacting in their naturalism.) Teenage Joaquín (Diego Baenas) in La ciénaga has a glass eye; as he hunts throughout the movie, you wonder when he’ll lose the other. At one point he hears rustling in the bushes and raises his rifle: it’s his sister Momi (Sofia Bertolotto) pulling herself through a thicket. The boy’s gun doesn’t immediately descend upon recognition though, and after it does, he actually raises it again: what is he seeing or thinking? It’s a quick and complex moment, like so many in these films, that invites rewatching again and again to know what your eyes have really seen. Soon after, the kids gather before a bull stuck in the swamp. One of the youngest starts to walk out to it, while rifles are cocked behind him. Will they shoot with him so near? Momi raises her t-shirt to her mouth, and bites down on her lips.
‘Little passing moments like the above, compacted of the frightening and the mundane, help create the tense moods that are sustained throughout. While Amalia and her friend do homework in The Holy Girl, a naked man falls from the balcony above and survives. ‘It’s a miracle’, she tells her unfazed mother, and the incident is dropped. Giant plant pots, stacked as high as if on top of a towering beanstalk, threaten to fall on people in a gardening store in The Headless Woman. In the same movie, a cringe-worthy detail involves one of the many servants who swirl around the heroine Verónica (María Onetto), living reminders of her guilt. After everyone else leaves the kitchen at the end of a scene, a child walks over to the counter and takes a sip from a glass of water: we know the glass to have just been used by a girl with hepatitis. These apparent digressions, part of Martel’s unconventional, composite style of storytelling – often quick-moving to the point of fragmentation, with many links between events and characters spelled out indirectly, if at all – amplify the element of horror so nicely signaled in the films’ titles.
‘If the characters aren’t always ensnared in some dance of death, then they’re often busy with a dance of folly. The foolishness of non-Indian adults is shown with subtlety. This is most entertainingly true of Helena in The Holy Girl. Helena and her brother Freddy take care of little in the hotel, leaving things to an overworked native woman called Mirta (Marta Lubos). Moran has observed that Helena is the sort of person who, in any situation, is always thinking of some little game she is trying to effect. If memory serves, Gore Vidal writes of a relative who ‘had perfected the art of listening with an air of attention’: the same applies to some of Martel’s creations, who speak with pointed obliqueness too, with an air of communication. ‘When I tell you to listen, you have to listen’, a mother commands her daughter in The Headless Woman. Not listen all the time, because that might lead you to contradict me, just when I tell you to; and really not to listen, only to do what I say. Possibly such ways of life are wearing. When the alcoholic matriarch Mecha (Garciela Borges) of La ciénaga takes to her bed, you suspect that some mystery of her extreme nature is responsible, more so than any accident. A fear is voiced that she may remain there, like her mother did, for decades until death. Sisters in The Headless Woman likewise wonder if everyone in their family must finally go crazy like their elderly aunt, who is said to have ratty hair, and sees visions.
‘While it may be oversimplifying things to say that the characters of these separate films might have been born of the same bloodline, it is hard to underestimate how closely the subjects are related to one another. Martel has a novel take on incest, dramatising it as a form of arrested development and narcissism. The headless woman’s brother likes to give her lingering kisses, and Freddy in The Holy Girl sometimes appears suspiciously like a husband. Sardonically, Martel has likened the physical act of filming on location, with the mass of invasive equipment, to the presence of a tumour; to which her interlocutor added, it is also like that of an octopus, its tentacles spreading out over an area. This image of entanglement seems good in more ways than one.
‘Among the hardest people to pick apart and identify are the kids. This is partly because there are oodles of them and partly, one senses, because Martel takes pleasure in presenting them as part of her overheated natural landscape; J. Hoberman has excellently described them as ‘hanging around like ripe fruit’. Another thing they resemble is animals. The children in La ciénaga lay about on one another like dogs, while their actual dogs lay on them. A fable relayed in the movie, about a carnivorous rat that is mistaken for a dog, gives the resemblance a comically scary aspect. And whoever has seen The Holy Girl is unlikely to forget the image of Amalia and her friend swimming at angles around the pool on their backs, side by side as easily as two tadpoles. Not for nothing has Martel compared her camera’s view to that of an animal or a ten-year-old child. Its understanding of events seems innocent, tantalisingly limited: because they are so oblique, pointed conversations seem to go slightly over its head. Indeed, to capture everything in this macabre human comedy one would need to be less a fly on the wall, than many flies on many walls, or many kids under many beds.
‘The children go in for much the same things as the adults, though with somewhat more vibrancy and daring. After a sexually charged chase and wrestle, one fairly grown cousin in La ciénaga walks in on another while showering; without saying anything, he sticks his clay-covered leg in the tub to wash it off: she enfolds herself in the curtain, and tells him to get out in the most gentle of murmurs, as though inviting him in. Turning cartwheels into big ditches, running across busy roads and much more, these youths are no less on the brink of some kind of chaos than the adults, but they would seem to be having a better time of it moment to moment.
‘The best people in Martel’s world, finally, seem doomed to live in the shadows, or to become shadows themselves. This is true not only of the Indians who tend to be poorly used by their employers. The intelligent Amalia falls ill and grows pale; the camera blurs her image, so that she starts to look distinctively ghost-like as she stalks her man around the hotel. In the pool with his kids, she holds her head underwater until they have counted to eighty-five; she surfaces, looks at him with a devious smile, and doesn’t visibly exhale. Is she still of this world? A similar question can be asked of Veronica, who wants to address her failure to act in the end, but whose whole existence by that point has grown too cloudy.’ — James Guida
Lucrecia Martel @ IMDb
Lucrecia Martel by Haden Guest @ BOMB
Three Films by Lucrecia Martel
Stuck in the Mud: The Visions of Lucrecia Martel
Press Conference: “The Headless Woman” by Lucrecia Martel
SUBMERGED IN SOUND: LUCRECIA MARTEL’S LA CIENAGA
SPOTLIGHT: LUCRECIA MARTEL
Lucrecia Martel — “a decidedly polyphonic cinema”
Une autre écoute : de l’usage de l’acousmatique dans les films de Lucrecia Martel
“Lo que yo hago es todo mentira, es todo artefacto”
“All that heroic past and brave macho stuff makes me ill”
From Trauma to Catastrophe in the Films of Lucrecia Martel
Lucrecia Martel, The Headless Woman
Feminine Adolescence and Transgressive Materiality in the Films of Lucrecia Martel
James Quandt on Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman
Entrevista a Lucrecia Martel
Harvard at the Gulbenkian 4.2
Lucrecia Martel Charla Valdivia 2014 ficv
Charla con Lucrecia Martel – 3º Festival de Cine Espacio Queer
from Film Comment
The Headless Woman is a very strong film and a difficult one. In terms of its structure, it seems very different from your two previous films [La Ciénaga and The Holy Girl].
I think that the first two films are also very different from each other. So I can’t really say how this one is different from the other two because it’s not as if the other two had a common structure. What I did achieve in this film was to polish up my technique of working with layers. I always have a layered structure, and in this film I found the cleanest way of working with it. And also, the format I used was perfect for what I set out to do. I regret not having used it before.
You mean the ’scope-width screen?
For me, the obvious difference is that The Headless Woman is focused on one character’s subjectivity.
That was the greatest challenge. I felt I was really taking a chance with that because I had never worked following just one character before.
But then, I don’t quite understand what you mean by layers. When I think of layers, I think of layers of plot and of characters.
What I mean by layers is a form of accumulation, which makes plot no longer necessary in its classical sense. I work with a number of elements that are tied together, and each one of them is present in each scene in different positions, different perspectives, foreground or background. For example, the accident is present in every scene in different forms: maybe there is somebody who is digging, or something that is thrown on the floor. So I’m not spelling out the accident thing, but I have elements that evoke that. This way of working, which is my form, was a lot easier to pull off when I had a large number of characters. With just one central character, it was a lot more challenging.
For me, the film is a kind of thriller, in the sense that in every scene you’re looking for clues in order to figure out what really happened in the accident.
There’s always this doubt. Did she or didn’t she run over the boy? When I saw the film a second time, I began looking for clues in the very first scenes. For example, I wanted to see if the handprints on the side window that we see right after the car hits something were made by the children who are playing near the car in the scene that introduces Veronica.
Actually, the prints on the car window are the prints of the kids that were playing around the car and not the prints of the dead child. But to me, what was important or relevant wasn’t finding out whether she actually killed somebody but her reaction to what happened. I wanted to focus on her human behavior, her human reaction to the possibility that she may have killed somebody, and it doesn’t really matter whether she did or not. What matters is her attitude toward it; in her heart, she killed him. And it’s how she reacts to having done such a bad deed. And that’s what I find extremely interesting, that human behavior doesn’t depend on the truth of the act, on the facts of whatever was done by the person.
But in order to represent the accident, didn’t you have to decide whether the child was killed. For example, the second time I saw the film, I heard on the soundtrack what could have been a stone on the road or what could have been the child. Did you have to decide which it is?
What I thought was that it is possible that she may have hit the child and then he fell into the canal, and the water from the storm dragged his body to where it was found. But it’s also just as legitimate to think that she hit a dog and the dead child just turned out to be there for totally different reasons. So when I filmed I tried to bear in mind that both were equally possible.
But nevertheless it is immoral that she doesn’t go back to look and to see what, if anything, she hit with the car.
It’s potentially a hit and run.
That’s really the point. If a person has even the slightest doubt about having caused great suffering to another human being—and in this situation it’s a matter of life and death—the fact that this person would choose not to stop and find out what really happened, well, it makes them less than human. So to me that’s the key issue. Actually, I believe that this mechanism is constantly at work. It’s a mechanism whereby even in the most basic social interactions people tend to deny responsibility. Instead they attribute whatever happens to an entire social class or to the nature of things, so that they can ignore the suffering of others. They tend to say that’s the way things are, that’s the way history has made it, that’s the way the laws of nature have made it. That way of avoiding social responsibility makes us less interesting as human beings. Why is it that in our day and age, we have this belief that there’s nothing we can do at an individual level to change things? Why is there so much fear of taking individual responsibility for larger-scale problems? I don’t understand that. I believe that’s really the evil of our times, it’s the main problem of our times.
Are you saying that individuals refuse to engage with large-scale social problems because they feel overwhelmed?
I think that in the film I show a social mechanism, which in itself could be really beautiful and fascinating, but at the same time is really frightening. And that’s the mechanism whereby a social group as a whole tries to alleviate the suffering of one of its members. They gather together and cover up what happened in order to protect one of their own, even though it is possible that the person has committed a crime. On the one hand, that is beautiful in terms of human support, but it also contains all the roots of what’s evil about a social class: hiding facts, crimes even, and it leads to racism. It is the psychological basis of racism.
One of the things that I have learned from watching your films is that the signs of class privilege are different in Argentina than in the U.S. If you showed a New York woman getting a massage in a bedroom that was so small that she had to lie on the floor in a narrow space next to the bed, that would signal to the audience that these were poor people, not upper-middle-class people. The gap between the rich and the poor is enormous in the U.S. as well, but lifestyles are different. People don’t have healthcare, but they have big houses. People don’t know where their next dollar is coming from, but they have a big house, a big car or two, an entertainment center.
But the people in the film are not so rich. They’re just a little more than middle class, but in Argentina, they don’t have the same level of consumption and consumerism as in the U.S.
But in your films they have servants, people taking care of them all the time. Here you have to be very rich to have a full-time person to cook or clean your house.
It may be because of that that you think it’s meant to be a higher social class than it actually is. For example, in Argentina, I have a cleaning lady who comes to clean my apartment once a week. And any middle-class woman in Argentina has a cleaning lady. The problem is that in the North, where my films are set, it’s not seen as a job but a servant-type thing. In the upper middle class, they see people who work in their homes as servants, they don’t see them as employees who have a job to do. They expect these people not just to do their job efficiently but also to be affectionate toward them and have an emotional connection. I find this funny: whenever social classes are so closed in on themselves, incest becomes a sort of key—it’s as if they are in love with themselves. That’s why there are all these interfamily relationships in my films. My films are not intended as documents of reality as it is; they are constructions that I’ve made. I always find it fun to see how people are so closed off and so into their family because they’re so into themselves. It’s so ridiculous.
Are you saying you make social satires?
There are a number of elements in my film that are not exactly satirical, but they are indeed exaggerated. This film does go in that direction. For example, there is this elderly woman who’s bedridden and she’s watching a short video of a wedding that took place years ago and she sees relatives who are dead as if they were alive. That’s the kind of element that is stretched beyond realism. I cannot say my films are naturalism. There’s a genre in Argentina where you show the outfits, the habits, pieces of life, trying to show how people live. It’s ethnographic but it’s fiction.
And that’s not what you do?
No, I think what I do is really “false.” For me, a film is not just storytelling but an attempt for me to share some perceptions with the viewer. A film for me is a mechanism to show thought, but I interpret thought as a mix of perception and emotion. In the world of cinema, in particular of cinema students and writers, there’s this idea that cinema is about storytelling. I don’t share that view. I believe that cinema is a lot more than that; I believe that storytelling is just the starting point; it’s like a device you use to share a lot more than the story itself.
In the note you wrote for the press kit, you say that when you have nightmares, it’s always that you’ve killed someone. In one dream you describe you’ve murdered a man and put his head on a shelf, and your father knows what you did and leaves you a note that he has “arranged your shelves.” Someone might analyze it as a dream about guilt and complicity. By recounting the dream, are you implying a direct personal relationship Veronica and the film?
In many ways, yes, but I don’t believe that this dream of mine is about guilt as such. And in the film, the main issue is not guilt. Because I believe guilt, as such, does not really explain anything. My dream is about the possibility that even though someone has made a big mistake, the rest of that person’s life is not necessarily shaped by it. And somehow with the help of others, the person can overcome the consequences of the negative act that they’ve committed.
And then how does that relate to “the bag of bones” that you mentioned before?
When I talked about carrying a bag of bones on one’s shoulders, that’s not guilt for me. I think that’s something that causes a person’s life to shrink, something that limits the person. I don’t like to talk about guilt as such because I believe the idea of guilt does not allow us to understand anything. So the bag of bones doesn’t mean that you have guilt on your shoulders, but it means that all of a sudden your life becomes restricted, and your power of action, or your power of becoming what you’re meant to become, is all of a sudden undercut and limited. I believe that when you focus on guilt like Catholicism tends to or psychoanalysis, it does not allow you to think of anything more. Guilt becomes sort of like a hat that somebody wears. I prefer to avoid using the word guilt so we don’t just very simply wrap the issue up. I think that responsibility is a very different idea than guilt.
12 of Lucrecia Martel’s 17 films
Camarera de piso (2022)
‘There are themes explored in CAMARERA DE PISO: class difference, labor and gender violence. But this is not a topic-driven film, it is choreography, as it makes these topics move. It is also a literal dance: the main character, a woman training to be a chambermaid, moves through space, choreographed by her boss. Then trouble appears through a phone call and the offscreen space disrupts her movements. She dances differently. And then again. In twelve minutes, Lucrecia Martel makes three films: a labor drama, then a thriller, then a diva melodrama, all choreographed by Juan Onofri Barbato.’ — Lucía Salas
‘In her most recent short work AI, Martel once more explores agency and uneasy subjectivity in an adventurous new way. Martel’s AI takes place in a self-consciously artificial, audiovisual representation of mental space, solely using a highly suggestive appropriation of archival footage to construct a post-human or non-human protagonist. A heavily-manipulated and abbreviated extract from a YouTube video (described in one of this cult object’s synopses as “a brief interview with a young man… who demonstrates negativism in a catatonic schizophrenic.”), Martel’s AI is imported, exported and rendered as if to resemble a horror film, intriguingly putting forward a potentially risky and provocative parallel between source material and subject matter.’ — Ross McDonnell
‘Backed by Pedro and Agustin Almodovar and written and directed by Lucrecia Martel, Latin America’s most prominent woman director, “Zama,” one of Latin America’s most awaited and ambitious films, has gone into production. Also written by Martel, her fourth feature — after “La Cienaga,” “The Holy Girl” and “The Headless Woman” — “Zama” adapts the novel of the same name by Argentine Antonio di Benedetto, first published in 1956. Admired by other writers – it is “written with the pulse of a neurosurgeon, said Roberto Bolaño – it is now being recognized as a high-point of Latin American literature. The film is set toward the end of the 18th century, just before the spark that set off the independence movements. It turns on Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), an officer of the Spanish Crown, who serves out his time in a provincial backwater, awaiting a promotion and transfer to Buenos Aires that never comes. Forced to accept submissively every task entrusted to him by successive Governors, he joins a a party of soldiers that go after a dangerous bandit. Zama leaves to distant lands inhabited by wild Indians and gains, finally, the chance to live.’ — Variety
‘García Bernal, through his production company Canana and with multiple supports, summoned 11 directors from all over Latin America to film two short films on the problem of school dropouts on the continent within the framework of the project called El aula vacía. In the case of Lucrecia Martel, the short film is called Leguas and its protagonists are some boys and girls who represent boys and girls from the Diaguita Calchaquí Las Pailas community in Salta who They help in raising cattle. There, they try to stay in school but suffer daily violence (psychological or directly physical) from landowners who expel them daily, chasing them on motorcycles from the lands that these original peoples consider their own.’ — Otros Cines
‘Horror and fashion are interwoven in Lucrecia Martel’s “Muta,” a commercial and short film hybrid with a subtle and disturbing story that blurs the line between repulsion and beauty. The clothing company MiuMiu commissioned the piece for a unique short film project called The Women’s Tales. Martel’s choice of title is interesting. Perhaps in her research, Martel found out that Miuccia Prada had been a mime for the years following her PhD in political science. “Muta” means mute or voiceless in Italian: the characters in this short film do not speak in a manner that is intelligible; they don’t use a comprehensible language and the sounds they produce are not subtitled. What was that mumbling? Did I hear a word? A series of unintelligible and incoherent sounds create constant speculation for the audience. Martel uses all her artistry to create a soundscape that intrigues, often recalling sounds we rarely hear but associating them with something more familiar: the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings as we see a close-up of a long fluttering fake eyelash.’ — Numero Cinq
the entire film
‘Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel’s “Pescados” (“Fish”) absurdly wonders what fish’s dreams are made of through a pool of carp who dream of driving in a car in the rain, but – and this seems the essential point – without dogs. The frame of the film is crowded with bobbing carp of various sizes and colours that strain to reach for food at the top of an aquarium or a zen koi pond. Through their various tones of voice we detect differences in character between the fish as they blather in their invented language. Even without the sound, the anthropomorphized carp have personalities detectable in the way they treat other fish, nudging them out of the way, and swimming on top of them. The strange and haunting sounds are a hallmark of Lucrecia Martel’s film style. The fish are granted the gift of semi-individuality through the sounds that they are associated with, depending on whether that sound is shriller or deeper. They speak in individual voices but with overlapping sounds. This is not the story of one fish, but a community. Schools of fish usually perform in perfect synchronicity but Martel’s carp react fitfully. As in her previous films (both feature-length and shorts), she is highlighting the individual’s comportment within a greater group.’ — Numero Cinq
the entire film
Nueva Argirópolis (2010)
‘Following the release of The Headless Woman, the helmer briefly returned to short films with the release of Nueva Argirópolis (2010), commissioned by the Argentine Ministry of Culture as part of a project created in celebration of the Bicentennial of the May Revolución de Mayo, comprising of 25 Argentine filmmakers’ works, each 8 minutes long. Through snatches of conversation across diverse groups, glimpses into Argentine local life and birds-eye shots of the movement of people in costal regions, the film meditates on the social and culture state of the Argentine nation through an examination of the indigenous foundations of the country.’ — ECU Film Festival
the entire film
The Headless Woman (2008)
‘It hardly ever happens at film festivals that people take time out to see something twice. But when I first caught Argentinian film The Headless Woman at Cannes in 2008, several critics were already on a second viewing. Some hadn’t chosen to go back: at its first screening, The Headless Woman drew as many catcalls as cheers. And many people – for, against or undecided – left the film bewildered. The Headless Woman probably mystified as many viewers in Cannes as any premiere since Antonioni’s L’avventura in 1960 – and I suspect that Lucrecia Martel’s film too will go down in history as a classic. That a film should be perplexing needn’t be a turn-off: look how popular Michael Haneke’s Hidden was. Martel, the hugely original director of La ciénaga and The Holy Girl, doesn’t set out to baffle in quite the same way as Haneke: The Headless Woman is mysterious because it places us in the same foggy, dislocated frame of mind as its traumatised heroine.’ — The Independent
La ciudad que huye (2006)
‘Twenty-five years ago, while on a location scout in the sprawling city of Buenos Aires, Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel filmed what seemed like an endless wall. At the time, she remarked “What an absurd idea!” and thought gated communities would never work. However, upon seeing the expansion of these upper-class sanctuaries in the Argentinian capital, in 2006 Martel directed this informative short (whose title would be better translated as “The City That Flees” in English) about the more than 600 gated communities that can be found in Buenos Aires alone, an area of real estate totaling 360km, roughly the size of the Gaza Strip.’ — Sophie M. Lavoie
the entire film
The Holy Girl (2004)
‘La Niña Santa (The Holy Girl) is the middle film in the Salta trilogy, preceded by La Cienaga (The Swamp, 2001) and followed by La Mujer sin Cabeza (The Headless Woman, 2008). Salta is the northern region of Argentina where Martel grew up – a Catholic, conservative area towards which Martel has conflicting feelings. Besides their location and use of female protagonists, these three films share a focus on a stagnant and ineffective middle class, elliptical and ambiguous narrative structure that does away with introductions and conclusions, recurrent symbolism, dense and suggestive soundtracks, a predominant use of a static camera, and very close and crowded compositions. Martel has said that the films are loosely autobiographical, or rather, “memory” films, in which she elaborates on aspects of her own childhood and adolescence growing up in similar environments. La Niña Santa is set in the Hotel Termas which she visited with her family as a child. Martel has also talked extensively about her lost Catholic faith and her problems with traditional family structures. Martel’s work has been described as “minimalist”, a term often disappointing and lacklustre when applied to cinema. It certainly does not do justice to her complex characterisations, her use of dialogue and spaces, and her extraordinary sound design. In her films Martel explores the constraints and demands that religion, family and class impose on individuals, and the moral and ethical muddles that ensued. This materialises most clearly in her claustrophobic, disorientating, and layered mise en scène.’ — Carlota Larrea, Senses of Cinema
La Ciénaga (2001)
‘The opening of La Ciénaga (2001) feels like a mistake. A storm appearing from behind the mountains, a group of people around a putrid swimming pool, heat, pampered comfort, a domestic accident: none of it gives us the kind of information we expect. Where are we? Who are these characters? What’s going on? No screenwriting manual would recommend introducing a film this way. And in fact, when developing this project, her first feature, Lucrecia Martel was frequently advised to focus on just one or two characters, choose a plotline, and give her film a more sharply defined subject. There are too many characters in La Ciénaga (The Swamp, the name Martel gives to her fictionalized version of her hometown), and their relationships remain confusing even after we’ve finally managed to identify their family connections. It is difficult to tell what is central and what is secondary in each image, as the story avoids emphasizing any one situation over another. But that is precisely what is so distinctive about this stunning movie. Promiscuity, confusion, uncertainty: what the film relates is contained in the way it relates it. Fortunately, the filmmaker ignored the advice that would have given her story a straightforward narrative line and clearly delineated hierarchies of conflict and characters. Doubtless, this would have resulted in a more efficient film. But La Ciénaga is precisely a movie about unproductive pursuits, wasted time, the dissipation of energy, inactivity. Its characters are stuck in a bog, and not one of them seems to notice they’re sinking without hope of rescue.’ — The Criterion Collection
Rey muerto (1995)
‘Martel’s 1995 short film Rey Muerto is an artfully gritty short that turns one woman’s act of leaving her man into a showdown of memory, jealousy, and resentment worthy of Peckinpah. (We actually think the whole movie is a Wild Bunch reference, but maybe that’s just us.) It’s also in some ways a perfect introduction to Martel’s style, in the way it mixes kitchen-sink realism with a sense of mythic wonder.’ — Vulture
the entire film
p.s. Hey. ** Dominik, Hi!!! So happy some of the books reached out to you, or, rather, vice versa, I guess. I don’t know Philippe Dijan, do I? I don’t think so. Give me your review, thanks. I didn’t use the metro when I was in Vienna, but I can believe it’s ace. Vienna seemed like one of those relatively concise cities like Paris where a metro could rock the turf. Love naming his triplets Pla, Ce, and Bo, G. ** Ian, Thanks, pal. Thank you for the recommendation. I don’t know ‘Die Closer to Me’ or David Kuhnlein at all. Sure, if it’s easy to find/share a pdf, that’s awesome. You good? How’s writing, etc.? ** Greg Masters, Hi, Greg. Thank you for entering. Sure! You can write to me at email@example.com, and I can give you my mailing address or you can send me pdfs there. Take care. ** Jack Skelley, I love ‘River’s Edge’. Great film. Big whew on the 2nd edition! I think the beginning of September is the current thinking on the Paris FOKA event. Fine day to you and y’all. And I’l face-to-face you tomorrow. ** Tosh Berman, Hi. ‘Quarry’ is nice, elegant. ‘The Mother and the Whore’, yes, for sure. They rereleased it here fairly recently. It’s interesting: I saw the set list for the Sparks Hollywood Bowl gig, and they played the exact same set as they did in Paris except, in LA, they cut one song — ‘Escalator’. I was surprised by that. Like I had thought the only reason they played ‘When I’m With you’ here was because it was a hit in France. Anyway, sublime, right? ** Mark, Hi, Mark. Thanks for spending some of your recent eyesight and brain on my stuff. Alcaraz as in Carlos? If so, yes, wunderkind! ** Steve Erickson, Hi. So, you saw ‘Barbie’, I guess, and … ? I still haven’t watched/heard ‘Rush’. I suppose I should. Is ‘Passages’ a new Ira Sachs film, I presume? Zac is away until the end of the month, so we have a break from editing. We’re just organising things and working with Puce Mary on the score and trying to figure out if/how we can possibly pay for the help we need. No progress on that front. Yet, I hope. Thank you for asking. ** _Black_Acrylic, Cool, thanks, Ben. 15 coffees! Wait, I can totally imagine that. I think 7 a day is my record, though. ** Sypha, The name Izumi Suzuki sounds/looks familiar, but I’m not sure. Pretty interesting story: her life. I’ll try to look up ‘Hit Parade of Tears’, or the other one if I can’t find it. Thanks, very intriguing find. Oh, yeah, I think Kyler’s book is winging towards me too. ** Cody Goodnight, Hi, Cody. I’m … totally fine today, I think. Glad some of the books caught you. I love the original ‘Willy Wonka’ film. Not so much the Burton one. And of course I love ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’. I’ve actually lobbied to just go ahead and put the Xiu Xiu video online, but the rejection/ cancelation was kind of an ugly situation in which Jamie did not come out with flying colors, let’s say, and Zac is still pissed off about it, so it’ll stay in storage for now. I’m rewatching ‘The Wild Bunch’ today because it’s the assigned film for my biweekly Zoom book/film club thing tomorrow. Should be interesting. Sparkly today and tonight to you, C! ** Charlie, Few things are more powerful in this world than an impish grin. I thought I saw a ghost when I was a teenager. This friend who was crashing at my house and I went to the kitchen in the middle of night to try to cure our munchies, and we both saw this floating, vaguely human-shaped white thing sort of zoom down the hall next to the kitchen. We were freaked the fuck out. But, in retrospect, we were very, very stoned, ha ha. Your possible ghost is prettier. ** Bill, It only showed up once! I have no excuse for not seeing ‘Asteroid City’ except inexplicable procrastination, but a visiting friend is dying to see it too, so that should be the needed impetus. Wow, Califone, I haven’t thought them in a long time. Ooh, ouch, conventional material, get thee behind me Satan. ** Right. If those of you with eagle eyes who have been looking at this place for quite a while are thinking, ‘Wait, didn’t he already do a Lucrecia Martel Day?’, you are correct. I did one about six years ago, but it was really out of date and messed with by the internet’s time-causing ravages, so I just made a new one from scratch for you. She’s a fine filmmaker, should you not already know that. That’s your Day today. See you tomorrow.