The Headless Woman defiantly begins on a note of incredulity. You’re meant to scoff at well-to-do Argentinean protagonist Vero’s fragile frame of mind and zombie-like interactions after her car strikes and kills a dog on a dusty side road. You don’t realize until much later, however, that the film intended precisely that reaction all along. But scoff you do as the pace crawls deliberately and restrained star Maria Onetto, in a nearly wordless performance, showers in her clothing and sobs uncontrollably over an on-the-fritz sink. Sparse extended shots tick by, multiplying the infuriating tension with every excruciating second. Almost imperceptibly, small plot points whirr and click into place, and suddenly you’re locked in a prison of the same chilling knowledge that Vero possessed all along.
Betrayal, unconditional love, decay and the disparate lots in life (and death) doled out by chance make for implicit yet meaty themes; there are no clear-cut or obvious screeds to be found in this South American noir. The overarching question isn’t, “What would I do in her place?” Rather, how one manages to carry on when there are no options at all is the impossible scenario Woman both posits and refuses to easily answer.