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By Matthew Sorrento | August 21, 2009

Verónica’s life seems to move fast – she goes from work to home, friends come and go, everything has its place in the routine day-to-day. Argentine Director Lucrecia Martel makes this world of priviledge seem mundane, even after Verónica (María Onetto) becomes a “woman on the verge” when she hits something (an animal?) with her car. From here her fast-paced life can’t cover a growing unease. Her duties as a dentist, parent, and wife seem to add to the menace.

As promising as the premise sounds, it cannot rise from the mundane. We are briefly tempted with something grander: after she hits the unidentified object – the camera never leaves the car at the accident scene – her car window shows two children’s handprints couching what sure looks like a deathshead in reflection. This gothic portent fades away just as quickly, as does a child drowning victim near the film’s end and when Verónica reveals, long after the accident, that she’s sure she hit a child. Yet an unofficial investigation is so short that we forget it had even begun, and “The Headless Woman” settles into the episodic without the necessary character development – it’s a slice of life too slight for its own good.

The film creates a distinct realism through its visual style: in slick, vivid photography by Bárbara Álvarez, Martel keeps an eye on the details with deep focus and a well-used soft lens. Beyond presenting her title character, she seems tuned in to the dimensions of her settings. It’s an anti-gritty realism, a feat in its own right – I think of Kelly Reichardt’s sublime “Wendy and Lucy” as the prime example, even more stylized than this film and still more realistic. But Martel can’t draw out her central character who occupies nearly every scene. Following her everywhere blindly, the film seems to have little purpose. It wraps just as casually as it begins, and fades just as fast from memory.

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