With whispered evocations of the saints, Lucretia Martel's The Holy Girl plays out like a sixties art film, full of its own sentimental sublimity, strutting about in the nubile body of a sexually awakening new millennial adolescence.
The story of Amalia, a teenaged girl, in a sleepy little Argentine town, who's mother and uncle precariously run the local hotel. One day, when somewhat inexplicably watching a man in a store window play the theremin - a device that hauntingly permeates the fringes of the entire film - Amalia is rubbed up against by an older man. The man, a visiting Doctor Jano, staying at the hotel, then starts a tepidly flirtatious affair with Amalia's mother - unknowingly aware of the connection. Amalia meanwhile, emotionally engulfed in the ideas of her Catholic school teacher - played with a surprisingly deft stillness by international sex symbol, Mia Meistro - decides to take the older man on as her project for saving - her mission. Dr. Jano then becomes Amalia's chosen vocation toward an eventual implausible sainthood.
Martel rattles the very Catholicistic cage of her film with a thickening whisper of dark secretive desires from every angle and aspect available to her. No stone goes unturned in the possibilties of primal, cerebral seduction - for good or for, mostly, ill. Amalia whispers into the ear of the older man that he should not be afraid of her. Amalia and her friends whisper of heard-about liaisons of their studiously sad teacher. Amalia's best friend, Josephina, doesn't want to sleep with her boyfriend outside of marriage, but lets him anally penetrate her in order to satisfy his desires and "protect" her own virginity. Amalia and Josephina share a quizzicaly provocative kiss poolside. Even Amalia's mother and uncle seem to be helplessly closer than one would expect of a brother and sister. The sexual tensions are all around - saturating Martel's film. All the while Amalia keeps whispering her saint-aimed evocations.
Amalia, played with near-stoic remorse by Maria Alche, is simultaneously shown as angel and devil - backlit for a halo'd effect and at the same time shot from below to turn her crooked grin, which pops up with the quickened alarm of hellfire, into a devilish sideways grin. Both Amalia and Josephina constantly mistake the "call" of vocation or their half-whispered catechism. Instead hearing the burgeoning buzz of a hormonal awakening. Like girls with no knowledge of what their libidos are capable of - even their own coital divinity. Martel excentuates these unbeknownst appetitions by giving her film a claustrophobic sense, using sounds scraping and mouths wincing and tight-fitting sets numbing the characters into submission - as if there is no nature outside the close-knit walls of hotels and schools and churches. With all these confusions - both eternal and external - it is inevitable that disaster will befall at least a few of these characters - but it is a disaster of blaise importance to the girls who only wish to fulfill their supposedly divine missions.
With a subtly arrousing wind blowing quietly through the entirety of the film - not unlike the liberal use of the ever-so-phallic theremin - The Holy Girl combines both religion and the awakening of sexual desires with the strongest - and bravest - bravura this side of a Luis Buñuel film.
- May 26, 2005