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.

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