The Holy Girl

Argentine writer-director Lucrecia Martel's follow-up to her bitterly satirical LA CIENAGA (2001) returns to the fetid intersection of family dynamics and religious fervor in this somnolent exploration of 16-year-old schoolgirl Amalia's (Maria Alche) unsettling sexual awakening. Amalia lives with her lonely, embittered mother, Helena (Mercedes Moran), in...read more

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Argentine writer-director Lucrecia Martel's follow-up to her bitterly satirical LA CIENAGA (2001) returns to the fetid intersection of family dynamics and religious fervor in this somnolent exploration of 16-year-old schoolgirl Amalia's (Maria Alche) unsettling sexual awakening. Amalia lives with her lonely, embittered mother, Helena (Mercedes Moran), in a family-owned hotel in provincial La Cienaga ("The Swamp"), modeled on Martel's hometown of Salta. Muffled in a cocoon of childish inexperience by her suffocating relationship with Helena, and primed by daily religion classes to expect that at any moment God may call her to an ennobling task, Amalia first encounters Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso) in a midday crowd gathered around a sidewalk theramin player. Jano, a married otolaryngologist (an ear, nose and throat specialist) with children of his own, rubs against her suggestively, then scuttles away. Amalia later discovers that Jano is a guest at her family's hotel, in town for a weeklong medical conference. Rather than report the incident, she turns it over in her mind, looking for clues, and consults with her best friend, Josefina (Julieta Zylberberg), who's more interested in speculating about their pretty teacher (Mia Maestro) and her new boyfriend than in pondering the subtleties of vocations. Enthralled by the grisly stories of suffering, self-sacrifice and redemption she hears regularly in class, Amalia concludes that God has called her to engineer Jano's salvation. Jano, meanwhile, flirts halfheartedly with Helena, inviting her to play a woman with an unusual hearing problem in a staged demonstration of doctor-patient dynamics that requires hours of preparation. Stung by the news that her remarried ex-husband will soon be the father of twins, Helena dives eagerly into the part and fails to notice that her daughter avoids all opportunities to meet nice Dr. Jano. Amalia's clumsy attempts to save him instead draw him into a wholly inappropriate encounter, setting in motion the tale's infuriatingly ambiguous ending. Martel recycles key themes and images introduced in LA CIENAGA — a warm swimming pool, a body falling from a window, the feverish power of faith intertwined with eroticism and the choking tangle of family connections &#151 and Amalia's initiation unfolds in a quagmire of secondhand rumors, parables and playacting; her search for personal transcendence is mediated by shopworn stories. But in stripping her potentially lurid material of salacious appeal, Martel also makes it murky and oddly arid, a mind-numbing exercise rather than an experience. (In Spanish, with English subtitles)

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Argentine writer-director Lucrecia Martel's follow-up to her bitterly satirical LA CIENAGA (2001) returns to the fetid intersection of family dynamics and religious fervor in this somnolent exploration of 16-year-old schoolgirl Amalia's (Maria Alche) unset… (more)

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