Wednesday 3 May 2023

The Holy Girl (La Niña Santa) [2004]

 If Lucrecia Martel’s stunning debut feature La Ciénaga – with its intoxicating cocktail of chaos, malaise, torpor, vacuousness, fault-lines and undercurrents – was a dazzling piece of diamond, her sophomore feature The Holy Girl – the middle instalment in her masterful ‘Salta Trilogy’, and followed by the magnificent The Headless Woman – was like a cold, metallic razor that clinically sliced through the skin. This brilliant, cutting, provocative, unsettling, sensuous and languid work – which’re Martel’s authorial signatures – focused with wry detachment on how religious frenzy and sexual curiosity can feed into each other for a young, naïve and intensely conflicted teenager. The film’s lurid and devilish subject bore Almodóvar’s influence – he was, incidentally, the film’s executive producer – but this was Martel’s film through and through, with its ambivalent gestures, tonal ambiguities, narrative restraint, unhurried style, flirtatious compositions, and leaving things open to extrapolations. It kickstarted when a middle-aged man takes advantage of a crowd to casually press his groin against a teenage girl, in what is clearly a secret sexual perversion for him. The man happens to be Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso), a respected and married physician, who’s attending a medical congress at an impressive hotel, and during which time he finds himself getting drawn to Helena (Mercedes Morán), the hotel’s striking owner and a divorcee in a state of emotional dilemmas. And the girl is Amalia (María Alché), a paradoxical, mischievous and pubescent teenager who’s become enamoured by Catholic faith, experiments on her burgeoning sexuality with her friend (Julieta Zylberberg) and starts stalking Jano to cure him of his sins. She, coincidentally, also happens to be Amalia’s daughter, and the ensuing ménage à trois is therefore bound to end badly for all.

Director: Lucrecia Martel

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Religious Drama

Language: Spanish

Country: Argentina

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