www.list.co.uk/film Reviews Film
DRAMA LOURDES (U) 99min ●●●●● COMEDY EXTRACT (15) 94min ●●●●●
MYSTERY/THRILLER THE HEADLESS WOMAN (LA MUJER SIN CABEZA) (12A) 89min ●●●●●
On the basis of just three films – La Cienaga, La Nina Santa and now The Headless Woman, which are all set among the bourgeoisie in the northwestern Argentinean province of Salta – writer-director Lucrecia Martel has emerged as one of recent world cinema’s most distinctive talents. The title of her latest work might evoke expectations of a Gothic horror tale, but it turns out to be an enigmatic thriller, which uses the catalyst of a hit-and-run incident to explore the troubled state-of-mind of its protagonist. The woman in question is Vero (Maria Onettto), a middle-aged dentist,
who’s conducting an affair with Juan Manuel (Daniel Genoud), the cousin of her husband Marcos (Cesar Bordon). Driving alone along a country road, she runs over something or someone. Traumatised by what has happened, she becomes worried that she has actually killed a person. Martel is much less interested in solving narrative puzzles than in
deploying a range of visual and aural techniques to convey her protagonist’s emotional disorientation: the filmmaker avoids establishing shots and favours asymmetrical, shallow-focus compositions and motifs of glass and water, while the ambient sound mix and elliptical editing intensify the atmosphere of confusion and anxiety. Onetto’s performance is a masterclass in how an actor can express a character’s internal emotions through subtle gestures and expressions rather than dialogue: her Vero is seemingly both present and absent in her interactions with other people. The Headless Woman is also a work of social commentary, for Vero and her family are very much the ‘haves’ in a society of massive material inequalities, relying on indigenous servants to tend their house and garden. And given the Argentinean setting, it’s tempting to interpret this ghostly tale of concealment and disavowal as in part a parable about the continuing collective amnesia surrounding the fate of the ‘the disappeared’ during the years of military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. (Tom Dawson) ■ Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 19 Mar.
After small screen success with Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, it was clear that Mike Judge’s brand of caustic humour would, one day, enable him to make a great big-screen comedy. Judge’s fans believe he’s already made one in the form of his enjoyable 1999 cult hit Office Space, but his unfocused 2006 follow-up Idiocracy illustrated that he deals in acerbically observed characters, not involving storylines.
Judge’s latest championing of the little man is Extract, which stars Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman as Joel Reynolds, the founder and proprietor of an artificial flavouring factory. Despite a lucrative takeover bid in the pipeline, Joel is persuaded by his druggie bartender Dean (Ben Affleck) to hire a gigolo to seduce Joel’s wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig), therefore alleviating Joel’s guilt about potentially cheating on her with sexy employee Cindy (Mila Kunis), who is not what she seems.
Extract is a satire of middle management, with all the characters reflecting the casually venal nature of society. Judge has the imagination to skewer several layers of society, from the humble pool boy to the vain factory superintendent, but doesn’t do enough to make us care about them. Extract’s desire to say something meaningful and unsentimental about modern life makes it a cut above most US comedies, but lacks the laughs required to balance out Judge’s trenchant social commentary. (Eddie Harrison) ■ General release from Fri 26 Mar.
Austrian writer/director Jessica Hausner’s debut feature takes a thoroughly anti-mystical approach to the phenomenon of miracles. The action centres on a pilgrimage made by a group of invalids to the eponymous French city during which a young woman named Christine (notably the least religious member of the group) experiences a miracle. Hausner’s cinematography is almost anthropological in its unpartisan, observatory style: the light here is not one of transcendence or revelation, but of humdrum modernity and everyday existence. Above all, this is a film about the very
mystery of religious faith because Hausner shows her audience everything and nothing; we may see every rite and ceremony, but the actual miracle takes place in an ellipsis. Is this divine intervention we witness or a mere coincidence? Why is this particular person ‘chosen’ and not another? The fact that the director never definitively answers these questions is testament to the film’s complexity. Hausner is also an astute observer of the fickleness of human nature: people who were sympathetic to Christine before her ‘miraculous cure’ turn hostile, while a young man whom she takes a fancy to does not notice her until she is the object of everyone’s fascination. Sylvie Testud and Lea Seydoux both give outstanding performances as the young invalid and her ‘helper’ respectively. Ultimately though it is the disquieting and hermetic atmosphere that Hausner so carefully crafts that one is left with. Hausner is definitely a talent to watch. (Anna Rogers) ■ Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 26.
DRAMA/THRILLER THE SCOUTING BOOK FOR BOYS (15) 93min ●●●●●
One hazy summer in a sleepy Norfolk holiday park, David (This is England’s Thomas Turgoose) and Emily (Holliday Grainger), constant companions by default of being the only teenagers there, spend the days mucking about. This relative idyll is punctured by the news that Emily must move away and live with her dad. Besotted, David goes along with Emily’s suggestion to hide her in one of the beach’s many caves, and plays innocent as the police get involved and her disappearance becomes a local media story.
British TV director Tom Harper (Misfits, Demons) makes a confident feature debut with this engaging story that slowly twists from a light-hearted evocation of teenage friendship into a dark tale of adolescent envy. Harper directs Jack Horne’s fine script with just the right amount of ambiguity, creating very believable characters in the process. David doesn’t sit easily in a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ category, and Turgoose makes the most of his sparse dialogue to construct a complex character through small but significant actions and reactions. It’s an excellent performance, and Grainger and Spall add strong support.
The film is not perfect; there are some jarring shifts in tone and the story’s ultimate destination stretches credibility, but as a dramatisation of the peril and confusion of adolescence it’s worth checking out. (Paul Gallagher) ■ General release from Fri 19 Mar.
18 Mar–1 Apr 2010 THE LIST 43