La Nina Santa (2004) – Hotel or Hospital? Architecture as Sex

In the 1960s and 70s a revolution took place not only in the teaching of history but also the understanding of history.  Historians argued that, instead of being seen as a succession of battles, beheadings, royals and revolutions, history could also be examined through the lens of sociology, linguistics and cultural theory.  This shift of emphasis away from political elites and towards normal people allowed social historians to consider the role played in the development of society and culture by groups that had previously been invisible to historians.  Groups who were kept out of mainstream politics but who nevertheless had an impact upon society because they were a part of that society.  This not only opened up whole new areas of historical research, it also shed new light upon some old problems.  Problems such as determining who had power and why decisions were made.

Social history’s new perspectives on old problems lead to what may be referred to as a semantic thickening of traditional political concepts such as ‘authority’ and ‘power’ as, for example, a queen may be seen as powerless if one measures power in terms of constitutional legitimacy and military might but extremely powerful if it is revealed that her husband runs all of his ideas past her before discussing them with his ministers.

This semantic tension between different forms of political power is one that is central to the work of the Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel.  In her 2008 film La Mujer Sin Cabeza (The Headless Woman), Martel showed how a middle class woman can be robbed of all power and agency by male relatives acting in what they perceive to be accordance with her wishes and interests.  Martel’s previous film La Nina Santa (The Holy Girl) considers the same set of intra-sexual conflicts but in a much more oblique fashion.  In fact, if La Nina Santa presents the battle of the sexes as a competition for the soul of an old building.

Continue reading →

The Headless Woman (2008) – It Deepens Like A Coastal Shelf

Do you get on with your family?  Think about it before you answer.  I don’t mean ‘do you squabble?’ or ‘do you talk to your family?’.  I mean do you really get on with them?  I ask because this is quite a common question but, upon reflection, I am not really sure how to answer it.  There are many ways in which you can ‘get on’ with people and not all of them are good.  Ideally, ‘getting on’ with someone would mean accepting them for who they are and being accepted in return.  But the truth is a little bit more complex than that because all too often we play roles.  Maybe we refuse to bring up old grievances with relatives at Christmas is order to ensure that everyone has a nice time.  Maybe we don’t mention that we don’t have a boyfriend because, actually, we prefer girls.  Maybe we let our parents and our families believe things about us that are not true.  Because it makes our lives easier.  Because it makes them happier.  So I ask again : Do you get on with your family?

Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel’s third film La Mujer Sin Cabeza is about a woman who gets on with her family.  She gets on with her family by accepting the role that she has forced upon her and, in return, she is protected.  Protected from the repercussions of her actions.  Protected from herself.  The Headless Woman is a haunting portrayal of a woman who is suddenly estranged from her own life and who comes to realise the true price she pays for the privileged existence she has lead.

Continue reading →