Lucrecia Martel hesitates to call herself a film director to start off with – “Well, I have directed three feature films, which, I guess makes me a film director”, she somewhat unwillingly admits in one of the interviews. Yet, despite this unassuming and cautious approach to her own work, her distinctive directorial style, often associated and referred to as the cinema of auteur, which she herself is not that willing to admit, makes her one of the most recognised Latin female film directors, despite the fact that it has been eight years since the release of her last and perhaps most acclaimed feature film La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman), proceeded by La niña santa (The Holy Girl), followed, in turn, by La ciénaga (The Swamp), the first in the ‘Salta Trilogy’, Salta being Martel’s home town and for a good while a prolific source of her cinematographic inspiration. She confirms that her films emerged as a result of the transformation which Latin American cinema was undergoing at the beginning of 21st century, but at the same time denies creating anything influential herself, despite being, as mentioned earlier, one of the most prominent figures of the New Argentine Cinema. Not exactly a movement, such as for instance the Third Cinema in the 1960s-70s which spoke out against colonialism, the capitalist system and the Hollywood Model of cinema as mere entertainment to make money, the representatives of the New Argentine Cinema, albeit incredibly diverse, all held up a mirror to society and employed similar aesthetics. Martel’s films are specifically about the Argentina bourgeoisie -their self-indulgence, their self-pity and their self-absorption.
What makes Martel an auteur? First of all, on the technical level it’s the sound, the significance of which Martel frequently talks about in interviews. “The possibilities that the sound offers in constructing emotions almost deactivates the power of the image – for this reason the sound is the most fundamental material I work with. Sound allows us to start having doubts by undermining our system of beliefs which is essentially visual” (adapted from this interview own translation from Spanish). This sound “is not stratified into music, dialogue, or ambient sound but generates a true network of sounds in which the indiscernible is in tension with differentiation (…) dialogues are treated as soundtracks, and many times their sound texture is equally or more important than the meaning of the words. (…) In La niña santa, the murmurs and hushed dialogues create a significant dimension of sound that has nothing to do with the meaning of the words” argues Aguilar (2008: 84).
Apart from the sound, Martel doesn’t shy away from extensive use of the tactile – the haptic, the skin of the film (Marks, 2000:162). Haptic reality might refer to perception, visuality or imagine. “Haptic perception is usually defined (…) as the combination of tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive functions, the way we experience touch both on the surface of and inside our bodies. (…) In haptic visuality, the eyes themselves function like organs of touch” (ibid.), whereas “a haptic image is associated with sharpness that provokes the sense of touch”. Perhaps not as strong as in the preceding film, La niña santa still offers a decent haptic experience centred around bodies – covered in sweat, wet hair – for instance Amalia and Josefina lounging about, Amalia’s close physical relationship with her mother, Helena, who in turn has an usually close and bordering on incest relationship with her brother, the scenes of people swimming in pools or having sex.
Finally, the way that Martel places her camera – at the height of an average 9-10 year-old 1.20-1.30 metre tall child – says a lot about the point of view that she identifies with as a filmmaker – a great deal of curiosity is what identifies the cinema of Lucrecia Martel.
Interview with Lucrecia Martel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp2MEuxE_po
Aguilar, A. (2008). Other Worlds: New Argentine Cinema. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Marks, L. (2000). The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses (pp.19-59). Durham: Duke University.
Karolina Ginalska is an English Teacher at Liverpool University. She will be introducing and leading the debate for Think Cinema screening of The Holy Girl at Liverpool Small Cinema on Thursday the 14 of July at 19.00 hrs . Tickets available here >>>