Argentine director, screenwriter and producer Lucrecia Martel has long been considered one of the key figures of the New Argentine Cinema wave, with her films serving as stunningly poetic and piercingly authentic social critiques of the collective malaise that permeates modern society. Martel sheds a highly penetrating light on the devastating dissolution she illuminates in her penetrative depictions of contemporary Argentine society, painting a dissonantly bleak portrait of the country’s middle class through beautifully allegorical character-driven narratives, decisively cementing her as one of Latin America’s most prominent female directors.
Born in Salta in Northern Argentina, Martel settled down in Buenos Aires where she attended the National Experimentation Filmmaking School (ENERC), before commencing her directorial career with a series of short films. Her most prominent short production, the award-winning Rey Muerto (1995), a poignant tale following a wife who flees her town in attempt to escape her abusive husband, garnered Martel significant attention in the international short film festival circuit. Martel’s debut feature film, La Ciénaga (2001), introduced her recurring, sensitively complex explorations of troubled minds inhabiting deteriorating societies, with her depiction of two women and their families residing in the provincial town of Salta – where Martel herself was born.
The helmer explores the social decay of the Argentine middle class through the depiction of Mecha (Graciela Borges), a middle-aged mother to several teenagers whose husband’s fixation with remaining young and her suspicions of her Amerindian servants’ thievery, contributes to her burgeoning alcoholism as she tries to cope with quotidian life. In the nearby city of La Ciénaga, also resides Mecha’s cousin, Tali (Mercedes Morán), with her small children and loving husband, Rafael (Daniel Valenzuela) – a tenderly affecting examination two domestic households, which garnered Martel numerous international accolades, including the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival and the Silver Condor for Best First Film at the 2002 Argentinean Film Critics Association Awards.
Martel’s second feature, The Holy Girl (2004), extended her auspicious examination of the tensions that arise at the intersection between extant societal traditions and the vicissitudes of contemporary society, through her illustration of a young adolescent girl’s discovery of both her sexual power and vulnerability, by way of her encounters with a married, middle-aged doctor. At a ramshackle hotel in the small town of La Ciénaga, Amalia (María Alche) and her best friend Josefina (Julieta Zylberberg), experience the emergence of their nascent sexuality at the same time as they develop a zealous Catholic fervor, with Amalia’s sexual and spiritual impulses manifesting itself in her interest with a guest at the hotel, Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso), whom she initially endeavors to ‘save’ from sexual sin, before eventually making him the object of her own desire.
The auteur’s most recent feature, The Headless Woman (2008), signaled her increasingly intense exploration of the complications of troubled minds, through the depiction the mental degradation of middle-aged dentist Verónica (María Onetto), catalyzed by her involvement in a hit-and-run while driving on a deserted road. Irresolute as to whether or not she has hit a person or an animal, the protagonist’s psychological breakdown is manifested in her sudden amnesia and grim emotional detachment which occupies the majority of the film’s slow-paced, intricate narrative – a highly-charged psychosomatic study which garnered Martel her second Cannes competition selection and the Best Director Award at the 2008 AMPAS.
Following the release of The Headless Woman, the helmer briefly returned to short films with the release of Nueva Argirópolis (2010), commissioned by the Argentine Ministry of Culture as part of a project created in celebration of the Bicentennial of the May Revolución de Mayo, comprising of 25 Argentine filmmakers’ works, each 8 minutes long. Through snatches of conversation across diverse groups, glimpses into Argentine local life and birds-eye shots of the movement of people in costal regions, the film meditates on the social and culture state of the Argentine nation through an examination of the indigenous foundations of the country. The same year, Martel released the irreverent and hypnotic comedy Pescados (2015), a mystifying account of fishes in a pool that dream themselves to be personifying a car driving past blurry street lights at night, marking her as a standout arthouse figure with inimitable unique and innovative directorial prowess.
Martel rounded up her trio of short productions with the film noir Muta (2011), a fantasy drama created in conjunction with Italian fashion-house Miu Miu depicting an elegant, well-coiffured crew of creature-like females, slinking across the vestibules of a ship anchored on the coast of a tropical region. The highly innovative and subversively avant-garde fashion film exhibits the meandering figures embodying a poised and refined femme-fatale aura, with their faces consistently hidden from view except from their fluttering eyelashes and darkened profiles. The auteur offers the audience a mildly unsettling glimpse into the uber-lux, private underworld characterized by a longing for escapism that is depicted in the heroines’ peculiar metamorphoses from the realm of the material to the transcendent, a testament to Martel’s beguiling versatile and expressive storytelling style.