The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Lucrecia Martel Day


‘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
Lucrecia’s Hearing
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.

I agree.

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.


9 of Lucrecia Martel’s 14 films

Zama (2017)
‘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



Muta (2011)
‘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


Pescados (2010)
‘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


the entire film


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 2002 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. ** Wolf, Wolverine! Oh, cool, I actually thought of you when I reposted the fake snow post, thinking somehow you would drawn in via your complex ways. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or known if I was seeing fake snow on slopes, but, you know, theoretically of course I feel an excitement-making love/hate for the idea. Your snow comments are glorious. Yeah, I think I’m guilty of romanticizing tech. I’m naive enough to see magic trickery in it, I guess. But I do think plumbers and electrician are wondrous too. Anyway, I’m still in awe of your stuff. Thursday, hooray! I’m down, so down! If you’re game, let’s meet up as soon as you get here on Thursday. Yeah, my number should still be exactly the same. Or you can email me, worst comes to worst. Do you have my new email? It’s denniscooper72@ Great, great, great, I can’t wait to see you! Big love, me. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Yeah, I think I don’t agree about the apt thing. I really object to the accusation of torture porn. I think it’s wildly speculative both about the motivations of the artist who made an accused work and about the reactions of the people who find value in it. It presupposes that the desire to titillate or to be titillated is a one-dimensional call to action. It suggests that explicitness is some kind of red line that certain disturbing things can’t cross without losing their complexity and nuance, which I think is nonsense. It seems like a fear-based condemnation by people who have placed restrictions on their imaginations a la people who tell people who ‘sin’ that they are going to hell. And a handful of people getting off in online forums to violent scenes in movies is not proof that those scenes are porn anymore than people in online forums spinning rape-y fantasies about flirty pop artists make those subjects porn stars. I can say I’ve never seen, read, or listened to any work that’s been accused of being torture porn and not thought that the accusation was just a misplaced outcry by someone with a combination of personal fear and protectionist tendencies. My work has been accused of being torture porn either explicitly or implicitly many, many times, which I guess is one reason why I try to think carefully about it. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I think I understand, but I haven’t seen ‘Detroit’ like I said. As far my thoughts on the ‘torture fetish’ or ‘torture porn’ thing, I guess see what I just said to David. Thank you very kindly about the gigs. I’m so happy to know that. That’s great! ‘Candy-O’! Hm, that’s an album I wouldn’t mind re-trying myself, actually. I saw on Facebook that you were pulled in by Ka5h. Yeah, there’s something both sweet and edgy/roamy in his stuff that intrigues me. I’ve heard a track or two by Sote that I liked. How’s the album? And I don’t think I’ve tried Offa Rex yet. I will. Thanks, Steve! ** Sypha, Hi. Yeah, I seem to have perhaps strangely not familiarized myself with that aspect of Bataille’s stuff. I don’t know what the Ordo Templi Orientis is either, but I’ll rectify that. The word on ‘The Dark Tower’ seems very negative, but what did you think? ** Alistair, Hey big A! Guess what? Your book arrived in the mail on Saturday, and it’s sitting next to my computer here, and I’m about to dive in. Very exciting! La Cabana! That takes me back. I adore that place. Back in the Beyond Baroque days, that was the go-to post-reading eatery/drinkery. I’m very happy that it continues to survive. Great Monday and following week to you, maestro! ** Bill, Thanks, Bill. The new Tone album that includes that piece he played in the gig is pretty crazy great. ‘The Untamed’, I don’t know that. I seem to have gotten kind of out of it, at least about films that are still on the horizon over here. I’ll definitely investigate. ** H, Hi. Oh, I know, re: the event, that’s cool. I remember one time I moved from the Recollets to another apartment and had to do the move myself walking back and forth with giant bags of stuff in the dead of winter and ended up getting bronchitis. I trust that your move, as taxing as it surely is, will have no impact post- the immediate exhaustion. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! ‘Bitter Skin’ … I like it. It’s simple but intriguingly confusing or something. Nice. You sent it to publishers! Oh, boy, hang in there. Try to be patient. Wow, that’s super exciting, though. My weekend, let’s see … Bunch of work stuff. Hung out with Gisele and Stephen O’Malley. We went to an exhibition by the great, wild music maker Charlemagne Palestine. Kind of a messy, eccentric installation of millions of stuffed animals and disco balls and stuff. Kind of kooky. Really nice weather. Strolled about under it. I guess I did mostly a bunch of this and that which hasn’t stuck around in my memory. But it was nice. How has this week started for you? ** Chris dankland, Hey, Chris! Thanks about the gig, bud. Dawson’s whole album is a kind of medieval folk-rock thematic thing. Maybe it said that in the accompanying text. Yes, Yasunao Tone is amazing. That new album is a really sparkly total mind fuck. I don’t know what to make of all of the AI speculation. Maybe it’s right, but it does remind of similar talk when I was a kid and people thoughts things like electric tooth brushes and video recorders were the beginning of the end for the human race. So I’m curious but also stepped back. At the NYC event I read a short section from my novel ‘Guide’. The section where the dwarf kills Chris, if that rings any bells. It was chosen for me to read by Matthew Barney and Brandon Stosuy because Zola Jesus’s contribution was a song with lyrics taken from that section of ‘Guide’. I live in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. If you look at Paris, find Place de Madeleine and Concorde. They’re near each other. I live right in between them. Yeah, thank you again for that gig post. Attending that gig is what I’m going to do as soon as I post this and take a quick shower. Thank you, thank you! Do get as much writing in while you have the open space, obviously. Everything I’ve been seeing by you lately has been totally inspired and great and very inspiring! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. I reckoned you might know/like Robert Hood. Nope, I didn’t know about his pastor talent. I’ll check that link. Deneuve really needs to chill on the cosmetic surgery, but I guess it’s too late. Really exciting possibility about YnY as a business venture, and it does really make a lot of sense. ** Nicholas, Hey, N. Social’s good. I get you on the Blondie thing. I mean, they’re great. They were never particularly big faves of mine in the day, but I bought all the records until they got slickened and saw them live a bunch. And I attended a invite-only absinthe drinking event once, and Debbie Harry sat across from, and she was wonderful and very nice. ** Misanthrope, Hopefully candy corn Oreos will return for their annual brief, special appearance at Halloween, although it’s hard to believe that they don’t taste horrifying. Which I guess is the point. Halloween. I don’t know much about my family history. I have a relative on my mom’s side who’s really into doing that, and he informs me of stuff. My dad cut his entire family off at a certain early point, so I never knew any of them or where they came from or anything. I’m glad to hear your visit with your old pal was so rich and fruitful. Yes to old friends! ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Glad the gig spoke some things to you. Circle is pretty interesting. It took me a while to figure them out, but now I do get why they have a cult that’s both passionate and smart. No, I’ve only heard maybe 5 tracks from the new Richard Dawson. The one in the gig was my favorite by far. Cool, that the music is up and listenable! Bookmarked. And passed along. Everyone, Want to hear Jeff Jackson sing among other musical things? Duh. Well, here he is to explain how you can do that. Jeff: ‘Speaking of music, my friend Jeremy just put the album I helped him record (with many others) on Bandcamp. The 11 songs cover a variety of styles – Sonic Youth type rock, gothic folk, noisy electronic ballads, garage punk, etc. Anyone interested can listen and download for free.’ Looking forward! Okay, I’ll see if I can put together a worthy Dieter Roth post. That book’s parameters of what constitutes Arte Povera are kind of hilarious. ** S., Okay, right, now I kind of remember someone explaining the ‘Catholic’ thing a long time ago. You probably saw that Danzig is selling his house. It’s about four blocks from my LA apartment. It’s really run down. Not in a goth way, in a ‘whoever lives there doesn’t care’ way. You can smell the cat piss all the way out in the street. All that 90s stuff. Man, be careful. Nostalgia is an enemy of the brain. ** Jamie, And bonjour to you! I’m good. Weekend was perfectly okay, a little bit eventful but not too much. I’m satisfied. Weddings are so weird. I think so. Even ones that try to be original and artlike and cool. I can’t explain it. Okay, so when do you get home wifi again? It seems like it’s been kind of insane(-making) long time. I’ll make Monday my slave, if I can. The Kiarostami Day was on my killed blog, but it’s a post that I should definitely restore, so I’ll get on that pronto. Infinitely strong spotlight love, Dennis. ** Okay. I have recently become acquainted with and very impressed by the films of Lucrecia Martel, and I thought I would give her a post and see if others out there would like to join me in my fandom. See you tomorrow.


  1. Scunnard

    Hi Dennis, just saw this and thought about you and the Japanese fake food day of yore:

    Also, behind the times, but Bataille day… why do I think he is hot? Also Yves Klein… probably not in person… just thought you should know.

  2. David Ehrenstein

    Dennis I think you miss my point re “torture porn.” There are certain kind of images that are dealt with far too glibly. And in the case of “Detroit” this is furter compromised by the Brownie points far too many people are willing to give Kathy Bigelow for being a white women dealing with black history. Leni Riefenstahl has been invoked (see “Last of the Nuba”) but I would also cite Susan George in “Mandingo” — a truly brilliant film about America’s racist history that goes a long way towards making up for “The Birth of a Nation” and “Gone With The Wind.” “Detroit” is not “Salo.” Not by a long shot. Or close-up.

    Thanks for this introduction to Lucrecia Martel

  3. David Ehrenstein

    Also re “Detroit” Don’t forget John Hersey

  4. David Ehrenstein

    Joe Orton news

  5. Steve Erickson

    I think Lucrecia Martel is the most talented of the directors who emerged from the Argentine New Wave in the 2000s, and it’s maddened me that her filmography is so tiny, at least when it comes to features. I hope her new feature might pop up at the New York Film Festival. But I recall singing the praises of THE HOLY GIRL to the psychiatrist I was seeing at the time. She went to see it on my recommendation, hated it and didn’t understand what I liked about it at all.

    I basically agree with what David just wrote about DETROIT, but I think you’re way too willing to give all extremely violent art a pass. And I know you haven’t seen DETROIT, but the dynamics of the film are complicated to a great extent that it consists of a white director showing black men being tortured and killed for an hour. I’m not saying there’s something inherently wrong with this because Bigelow is white, which some African-American critics have said, and I can think of white American directors who could have done a better job with this and black directors who could’ve made an equally offensive film. But it requires a level of thought about the depiction of violence that Bigelow just did not put into her film. I saw Dario Argento’s TENEBRAE the day before I saw DETROIT. It’s a horror film that’s admittedly misogynist and homophobic, but it still reflects more serious thought about what Argento is doing when he depicts violence and the merits of it than Bigelow seems to have considered when making DETROIT. Again, I’m not at all opposed to extreme violence, but if you don’t think about what you’re doing when depicting it, you do indeed run the risk of making torture porn. On some level, you seem to be aware of this – haven’t you said you threw out anything you wrote during rough drafts of FRISK that turned you on?

    The Cars’ CANDY-O has just been reissued in an expanded edition, with 5 demos and a B-side added. I downloaded it, and that’s why I was listening to it.

    • David Ehrenstein

      What you say about “not knowing what you’re doing” is precisely my point. This is apparent in both “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”

  6. Nicholas

    Martel seems right up my alley. I will peruse this post later tonight, when everyone has gone home except Trevor. He’ll either like the material or not. But, I think the better he gets into me and my take and preferences…, and of course vice versa….Oh, fuck, what do I say? I think I’m falling for him. I’ve said this. It just seems odd cuz of my past, his age, his opportunities for his future. Never will tie him down. Not like I have been. Enough.

    I do want to see DETROIT, for the obvious reasons. I am not going to pay $15 bucks trying to transport me to a theater and then pay for something I despise. I know the history of what the film proposes it addresses. I was alive during that time, though clearly not a big news hound at that age. If I see my birthplace going through filmic destruction, I will not be pleased. I know a couple of people who worked on it. While they are properly proud of their achievements, even they question what ended up on screen.

    Got other, better things (or maybe sorta) to say. Leave it at that.

    Oops, no. I will send the man a message, but Alistair’s new book… dang, gotta get my hands on that. Love the man.

    My always best thing to you all. Njr

    • Nicholas

      I’d forgotten this, but I believe it’s relevant some strange way:

      I had a shock on my morning walk. MOCAD has been painted mostly black. It’s just a real weird thing. They’ve changed their facade a few times. But this time it went from a multicolored, geometric thing that was loud, but somehow still elegant. to just flat black. I DO get the idea behind doing something like that. I’m not sure they are done with it… I guess it seemed anti summery or something, and the weather’s been mostly great (haven’t even put the a/c in this year!). Just odd.

  7. Steve Erickson

    Here’s a review of Tyler the Creator’s new album which speculates that it’s a subtle coming out statement: I’ve never cared much for his music, although I did buy CHERRY BOMB, but this, as well as the positive comments in the review about the music, makes me very curious.

    • Steve Erickson

      The review goes on to say that interviewers shouldn’t ask their subjects if they’re gay. Why? I’m not interested in outing people and I don’t give a shit if Kevin Spacey stays in the closet or makes jokes about it, but the weird attraction/repulsion shown towards gays and gay culture in IRREVERSIBLE inspired me to ask Gaspar Noe if he was gay when I interviewed him. (I was particularly inspired by the fact that Noe depicts himself masturbating while watching men have sex at the Rectum.) He said “No, I’m not even bi” but he was totally cool with the question, seemed to understand why I asked it and didn’t take offense.

      • David Ehrenstein

        There’s no point in “asking” Kevin Spacey if he’s gay> He’s gay. This is a fact and should be stated by one and all, simply and straightforwardly. “outing” is telling the truth.

        • Steve Erickson

          Whether Tyler the Creator is gay seems a bit more ambiguous right now.

        • Nicholas

          It doesn’t matter at all. Some people recognize it. Some do not. He can be a very good actor. And sometimes he fucks up. His commercial representation of himself is toast. As for Noe, I hope he masturbates to spiders on his ceiling.

          • Nicholas

            It doesn’t matter at all. Some people recognize it. Some do not. Spaecy can be a very good actor. And sometimes he fucks up. His commercial representation of himself is toast. As for Noe, I hope he masturbates to spiders on his ceiling. I have no idea who Tyler the Creator is, but that matters neither.

  8. Sypha

    Well, my youngest brother (Andrew) liked the film: he gave it 4 stars, though of course, he’s biased (being both a big Stephen King fan and also a huge fan of the “Dark Tower” book series). I thought it was decent… probably 3 out of 5 stars (or maybe 3 1/2 if I’m feeling generous). The teen boy in the film (Taylor Thomas) is kind of cute, so there’s that. It’s not a cinematic masterpiece but it’s an entertaining enough way to spend 95 minutes I suppose.

    The Ordo Templi Orientis was an occult secret society founded in the late 19th century/early 20th century. Originally it was somewhat modeled after the Freemasons, but after Aleister Crowley became in charge of it he reorganized it so that it revolved around the law of Thelema. My main interest in the subject is that the occultist Kenneth Grant was once a member, and (according to some) the true leader of it once Crowley passed away… but Grant was actually expelled from the order in the 1950’s, yet continued to act as its leader… well, it’s complicated, ha ha. Grant’s group of followers started to refer to themselves as the Typhonian O.T.O. in the early 1970’s, to differentiate themselves from the actual O.T.O. These days, I believe they go by the name the Typhon Order for legal reasons. Interestingly enough, as I mentioned in my Current 93 Day for your old blog way back when, Current 93’s David Tibet was briefly a member of Grant’s Typhonian O.T.O. back in the early 1980’s. The main reason why Grant was expelled from the Order in the 1950’s was due to a manifesto he wrote proclaiming the discovery of a new source of energy emanating from a previously unknown 10th planet (which he referred to as Isis), and his establishment of his own secret society (the New Isis Lodge) to tap into this current. He would also later on claim that we are currently living in both the Aeon of Horus and the Aeon of Ma’at side-by-side, whereas Crowley simply proclaimed that this was the Aeon of Horus. But I’ll stop there because as you can gather this is one of those subjects I can happily drone on about for hours.

  9. Dóra Grőber


    Lucrecia Martel is totally new to me. Thank you for the great introduction!

    Thank you! Shit, I’m trying to be really, really patient and realistic but I’m also super excited and proud! I’ll obviously let you know if or when a publisher sends word!
    So great! I’ve never seen Charlemagne Palestine’s work live but I’d love to. I can never decide whether I’d be fascinated or freaked out if I faced some of his installations, haha.
    I, for some reason, can’t seem to be able to leave this very lazy and cozy mood behind. I’ll try tomorrow but I’ve basically spent today just reading and watching Drag Race.
    I hope your day was at least a tad bit more worthy of writing about! How was it?

  10. Jeff J

    Hey Dennis – Really enjoyed this Lucretia Martel day. I’m a big fan of both ‘The Holy Girl’ and ‘The Headless Woman’ — and probably need to re-visit ‘La Cienega.’ (Have you seen that one?) I didn’t realize she had made all those short films and I’m setting aside some time tomorrow to check them out.

    Glad to see she has a new movie coming out soon. I know she’d been trying for years to make a sci-fi film that sounded amazing but she couldn’t get financing, even after the relative success of her last few movies.

    Thanks for sharing the link to the Bandcamp page for the music project I’ve been working on. If you’ve had a chance to sample, it’s a grab-bag of various styles. Hope something in there perks your ears.

  11. Jamie

    Hey Dennis,
    I have no answer to when we have wifi, I’m afraid. I’m really really tired of dealing with the provider. They make me miserable.
    How are you? I’m glad you’re thinking about resurrecting the Kiarostami post – after watching TWWCU I really wanted to check it out and was bummed when I couldn’t find it.I was pretty taken with that film with all its little blind spots. Cheers!
    I loved loved loved reading about Lucrecia Martel and her movies. I can’t wait to be able to watch some of them – they sound soooo up my street.
    Man, weddings are weird, aren’t they? I’m still oddly depressed by the one I was at on Saturday. Hmmm.
    What you up to today? I’m heading back to Glasgow early as I have a hospital appointment. Then I plan on spending the rest of the day on the phone to a faceless corporation.
    Hope your Tuesday blows your Monday out the water.
    Convincing cyborg love,

  12. S.

    lol did you see the aqua teen with Danzig he moves in next door and his sprinklers spray blood. danzigs sound is best. that ride symbol is everything. I live in a trailer park and pay big rent go figure anyway no walls to share and tons of camp cement Indians children gators cats orbs gravel all kind of campy shit lol. I still can’t figure out second empire houses worshipping Satan why are they even real? im not real nostalgic otherwise I’d probably listen to blind melon all day and eat pudding roll ups. really happy with my life maybe write a book of ghost stories going to a few reputed haunted places this week and disappear to the islands start an underage slave trade or something. story coming up. totally optimistic it’s just not widely reported

  13. _Black_Acrylic

    I’d never heard of Lucrecia Martel before and have just added La Cienaga to my DVD rental list. Thank you for this introduction, her work seems pretty vital.

    I’m excited about this potential new chapter for Yuck ‘n Yum. If we can get a bit of Fleet Collective space, even if it’s just me and Alex sharing a desk, that added to the time freed up by my imminent redundancy and factor in guidance from Donna who knows the game, well that’s got potential right there. Friday’s meeting can’t come soon enough!

  14. Nicholas

    Hey yet again. Forgot to mention this earlier. Absinthe invite-only parties. I’m jealous. I had a great time about 17 years ago in Los Feliz with one of my best friends, Tony, just getting, well, whatever that is, and walking suspiciously down Finley. I would have liked Debbie H. as the dimple-queen there for that. Jealous.

  15. Misanthrope

    Dennis, I agree with you on the “torture porn” thing. I don’t know, if a film or scene makes you uncomfortable, I think it’s unfair to impute nefarious motivations to the creator or director. As well, since it seems the exact details about what went on in that Detroit hotel aren’t really known but by a few, it’s possible she wholly underrepresented what happened there because she’s just not warped enough to think of it.

    I think she’s damned either way. I could see her being criticized for not showing (enough of) the brutality of what went on. I guess for me, you either like the film or not.

    I don’t know much about my family history either. Someone contacted my dad once when she was doing research about the Wineses. Another person once contacted my mom when doing research about her side, the Sydnors. Seems we may have been related to Martha Washington? I don’t know. I did look up our last name for LPS and found that the woman who contacted my dad was full of shit. We came from England and settled in New York. She’d said we’d come from Wales.

    Yeah, Jullion was awesome. Even bought me a Patti Labelle sweet potato pie, which my family devoured in a matter of minutes. That’s some good shit. You can’t find them in Waldorf. As soon as they hit the shelves, they’re gone.

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