La Mujer Sin Cabeza
Confession time: as a result of hitting a Cannes wall that I really didn't see coming, I zoned out and occasionally even dozed through substantial bits of Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel's new film, the title of which translates as The Woman Without A Head. Some of the detractors of the film (which does not feature any decapitations) might try to comfort me with the notion that the 87-minute-film is, in fact, boring. And while Mujer is a far quieter film than Martel's sardonic 2001 feature debut La Cienega, not to mention it's followup, 2004's The Holy Girl. Mujer doesn't lack for stuff—but the register of the film's nuances is so narrow that unless you're paying proper attention, the image will disappear before your eyes. A fancy way of saying that I need to see this story of the discreet guilt-trip of one particular bourgeoisie again.
The picture concerns a woman of privilege (Maria Onetto, who as a blonde here resembles a younger Geraldine Ferrarro—an unfortunate coincidence that could have disastrous effects for the film's U.S. prospects) who, reaching for her cell while driving, hits something (the first of the many jarring, convincing sound effects the picture throws up). We see a dog, but she believes she's killed somebody, and grows thoroughly withdrawn from her family and friends. Throughout, Martel places the character in shallow focus widescreen close-ups; therein, those people in her periphery—generally servants, workers, and so on—are diffused, hazy. It's an oblique way of reflecting on contemporary class relations, but it's apt, and in point of fact this is one of the few films in the largely-socially-conscious Competition that reflects on class relations as such. I also admired the way Martel drops in quasi-irrational elements; in one shot, Onetto goes to use a bathroom sink, as bizarre sparks emanate from a space behind her. For a moment one suspects that she's entered the world of Eraserhead, and then out of the space steps a welder. Such drollery is nevertheless in keeping with an overall dryness which makes me unsure as to whether I'd agree with a friend's assessment that this film is the Bunuel version of A Woman Under the Influence. As I said, I'm gonna have to see it again.
Balzac is often misquoted to the effect that "behind every great fortune there is a great crime." I thought of that idea during the end texts of Gomorra, director/cowriter Matteo Garrone's film of Roberto Saviano's explosive expose of Naples organized crime. The film's title is a play on Camorra, which is the name of said organized crime apparatus—this isn't the Mafia—and after the film's action concludes, those end texts lay out a body count of Camorra's murders, some statistics on the rise in the cancer rate in areas where the Camorra does illegal toxic waste disposal, and other pertinent facts, before dryly concluding, "The Camorra have also invested in the rebuilding of the Twin Towers in New York."
Garrone, who employed five other screenwriters (including Saviano, whose book touched such a nerve that he was placed under police protection) to bring Gomorra to the screen, smartly and deftly distills the tendrils of the book into five tight, compelling, narratives. A couple of knuckleheads find a stash of Camorra weaponry in a sty and start a spree of their own with disastrous results; a teen mob wannabe gets his hazing and is soon forced to betray a loved one; an old school bagman finds himself ill-adapted to cope with a new factional war; an aimless young man (based on Saviano's character in the book) hooks up with a Camorra entrepreneur who's expanding his toxic waste interests; and a master tailor in Naples haute-couture-creating quasi-sweatshop underground gets himself into a fix for tutoring at a Chinese-run "factory."
Garrone intercuts between these tales, shooting in what initially feels like a documentary fashion; lots of handheld, no fancy lighting, camera pans between characters in dialogue scenes. It's only in memory that the artfulness of so many of the film's compositions—the depictions of the labyrinths of the crummy housing projects, the claustrophobic order of the Chinese "factory"—registers. The imagery, including, of course, frequent bouts of violence, is both banal and shattering. These mobsters aren't flashy, larger-than-life characters of the "Jimmy 'The Gent'" or "Nicky 'Two Times'" variety; scrupulously eschewing sensationalism, Gomorra shows a charmless, down-and-dirty, ruthlessly capitalistic organization where all but the worst are always busting their backs and the good times are few (and often cost, dearly). The movie's overt yoking of capitalism to criminality boasts the advantage of having a preponderance of facts on its side; one delights in imagining the fulminations of protest this picture might inspire in a glib Randroid free-market cheerleader like Megan McArdle. Its particular social conscience aside, this is an instant genre classic that I dearly hope sees American distribution.