Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman is the best head-injury film since Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Through a breathtakingly remarkable and original use of cinematography and shot composition, the Argentine auteur effectively yet subtly puts the audience in the head of her disoriented protagonist.
Vero is an upper-middle class woman living a comfortable life in suburban Argentina. She takes the kids to the pool, drinks wine with friends, and so on. One day, while driving alone along an empty country road, she runs over something, banging her head in the process. Stopping, she slowly collects herself, then drives on, making a point not to look back at the thing she has hit. This places great doubt in her newly-injured mind; was it a person, or just a dog? The uncertainty haunts her.
Do not expect a traditional narrative from this point on. It is not Martel's intent to present a clear story. We often do not even know who certain characters are or why particular events are happening. None of this matters because this film does not exist to present a story, but rather a unique state of mind.
The way we are pulled into this state of mind is through the gorgeous, subtly bizarre cinematography. Most scenes consist of only a single shot which often stays completely stationary, allowing the various characters to move in and out of frame, between foreground, middle ground, and background. When attempting to create a psychological state on the movie screen, directors will often move the camera more, and include a multitude of cuts. This method is over-used and lazy. Martel understands this, and so makes a great effort to do something different. It pays off. The restrained camera movement and conservative editing are, together, a stroke of genius, and do more to put us in Vero's rattled mind than any impatient, MTV-style moviemaking could.