La nina santa

New Argentine Cinema at Cinematheque

The TIFF Cinematheque is gearing up to showcase new Argentine cinema, and admittedly, I'm always a sucker for the latest hot spots and avant-guarde filmmakers. TIFF's year-round screening programme has a series called "Film Now" that fits that bill, a much appreciated spotlight on contemporary films.

Two new highbrow(ish) programmes are running at Jackman Hall from November 27th to December 4th: Ride Lonesome: The Films Of Lisandro Alonso and Holy Girls & Headless Women: The Films Of Lucrecia Martel. And given that this is some pretty cutting edge cinema coming from Argentina, I'm excited.

The big headliner of the series is the Canadian premiere of Lucrecia Martel's latest The Headless Woman this Friday, kicking off a retrospective of the acclaimed auteur's works. This one week run will be the only theatrical release of the film in Toronto.

The Headless Woman opens with a hit-and-run on a deserted road. An attractive middle-aged dentist, momentarily distracted, drives over what she/we (at first) believe to be a dog. As the following days unfold, so does her memory... and the incident becomes quite the weighty mystery. Since everyone is all too willing to cover up for her, maybe it's best to forget?

Interesting questions come up in The Headless Woman, but I have a slight preference for Martel's other films in the retrospective: The Swamp (2001) and The Holy Girl (2004).

A run-down villa in northwestern Argentina is the setting for The Swamp. Not a whole lot happens here - mostly people hanging out next to a murky pool - but it always feels like something is about to. Martel's scenes repeatedly suggest the potential for incest, violence, or accidents. Chaos and leisure reign in this countryside household, with a steady flow of children, cousins, friends, siblings, maids, and a whole lot of alcohol coming through. I'd go so far as to say that the photography alone is worth the price of admission for this one.

And you really can't go wrong with a movie about religion and teenage sex. Martel's The Holy Girl centers on a catholic schoolgirl who has a "run-in" and becomes infatuated with a doctor in town for a conference. Meanwhile, the same doctor is getting friendly with her mom. Meanwhile, his wife and children are planning to come up for a visit.

I thought Martel's films were slow-moving and cryptic - until I watched Lisandro Alonso's Los Muertos. This is the only film I was able to get my hands on from the Ride Lonesome retrospective (Liverpool is the most recent in that set).

In Los Muertos, the protagonist is a newly released convict who seems to be rehabilitated. Earlier in the film, we follow him along on his quiet journey home, as he picks up food, gifts and, ok, stops to visit a prostitute. But as he ventures further into the jungle, closer to where he came from, his actions become increasingly unexpected and we start to wonder about his background story.

Check out the TIFF Cinematheque schedule for showtimes.

Still from The Holy Girl.

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