La Nia Santa (The Holy Girl) (2004) (Argentina)

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La Nia Santa (The Holy Girl) (2004) (Argentina)

Postby howardschumann(d) » Mon Jun 06, 2005 2:40 pm

THE HOLY GIRL (La Nina Santa)

Directed by Lucrecia Martel (2004)

"The Holy Girl is not about the confrontation between good and evil, but about the difficulties in distinguishing one from the other" - Lucrecia Martel

The combination of budding adolescent sexuality and Catholic Sunday School sermonizing leads to confusion and trouble in Lucrecia Martel's remarkable second film The Holy Girl. Similar in style to Alain Cavalier's masterful Thrse, another film about religious fervor, The Holy Girl is an extremely intimate series of minimalist vignettes in which the story unfolds in glimpses and whispered conversations, in "a slow reverie of quick moments". As in Thrse, there is no approval or disapproval of behavior, only a snapshot of events that the viewer is left to interpret -- and it can be a challenge.

Set in La Salta, the same small Northern Argentine town as Martel's first feature La Cinaga, the film takes place at a run down hotel that is hosting a medical convention of ear, nose, and throat doctors. The scene is a constant flux of people and movement and it is difficult at first to sort out the characters. Amalia (Maria Alch) is the sixteen-year old daughter of the hotel's manager Helena (Mercedes Moran) who is recently divorced and lives with her brother Freddy (Alejandro Urdapilleta). Helena suffers from an inner ear problem that is reflected in a discordant ringing noise that affects her relationship with the world around her.

As the film opens, Ins (Mia Maestro), a young Catholic teacher leads a group of girls in choir practice. "What is it, Lord, you want of me?" she sings. Overcome with emotion, tears well up in her eyes but Amalia and her friend Josefina (Julieta Zylberberg) merely whisper to each other about the teacher's alleged love affairs. The talk in class is about the student's "mission" and how they can recognize the signs that point to God's calling. Amalia thinks she sees a sign when a doctor attending the conference, Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso) goes in for some sexual touching while she stands in a group listening to a performance on the Theremin, an instrument that is not touched, but is played by disturbing the surrounding air (perhaps the way adults ought to deal with adolescents).

The character's motivations are complex and defy easy categorizing. Jano is a family man with children but seems driven by sexual longings. Helena, still seething that her ex-husband has just fathered twins by his new wife, is attracted to Jano but her advances are not reciprocated and her relationship with Freddy has a hint of more than brotherly love. Josefina teases her young cousin but holds back from committing herself, yet fully engages in kissing with Amalia, though what it means to them is uncertain. Amalia thinks that her mission is to save Dr. Jano and seductively follows him around the hotel, even entering his room when he is not there. At first not relating Amalia's stalking to the incident in the crowd, Jano becomes fearful that his medical career will be jeopardized when he discovers her identity, but the die is cast and Amalia's casual relating the incident to Josefina leads to unintended results.

The Holy Girl is elusive and somewhat disorienting, yet it remains an extraordinary achievement, full of intensity and crackling tension, true to the way people act when they are dealing with feelings bubbling beneath the surface. The girls live in their own little world, oblivious to the havoc they have unleashed and it is Martel's brilliant direction that allows us to enter that world, and it is not always comfortable. What happens in the film may be inappropriate but it never seems perverse. We expect the characters to be either heroes or villains but Martel sees them only as flawed human beings. Like the knowing half-smile etched on Amalia's face, her universe is imbued with a mystery that simply observes rather than evaluates. If the ending does not provide us with immediate gratification, it may be because it respects that mystery.


Re: La Nia Santa (The Holy Girl) (2004) (Argentina)

Postby hengcs » Fri Jul 08, 2005 7:15 pm

I watched this at San Francisco International Film Festival.

I presume I have set too high an expectation of the movie, so the movie only comes across as very good to excellent ... but NOT a big "wow ..."
... I am not sure about others, but I find that having a controversial theme does not necessary equate with a "must watch" movie ...
... It does have many good technics or potential ... but it may lose the audience with its pacing, vagueness and non resolution ...
... However, the SAME approach can be perceived as ponderous, abstraction and reality ... hee hee

What I like?
-- The well depicted "confusion" of adolescence ...
e.g., even at the end, it was unclear to the audience whether the teenage female protagonost did it out of love/desire or salvation for the doctor ...
-- The concurrent power and vulnerability of any characteristic (be it sexual, roles, occupation, age, etc) ...
e.g., is her sexuality power or vulnerability?
-- The blur between good and evil, morality and immorality, etc etc etc ...
e.g., is she a victim or a hero ...

-- As usual, I always like this kind of ending ... an ending without closure ... ha ha ha ... some audience will hate it, but I do like it ...

What may be problematic (to some)?
-- It is quite slow/average paced ... so, some audience may lose their patience ...
-- As mentioned, the ending has no closure ... so some audience will frown ...

Q&A: (from my attendance at San Francisco International Film Festival)
(the gist, not in verbatim)

Q: Which directors or movies influence you?
A: I am ashamed to say it, but I am not very conversant about movies ... so, I am not exactly influenced by any director's style ...

Q: Is the movie faithful to the original *****? Has anything been edited out of the movie?
A: It is pretty faithful to the script, any changes (which are few) are due to the budget ... If you are trying to ask about the ending ... nope ... I did not edit out any scenes ... it was scripted to end that way and nothing more was filmed ...
* audience laughed *

Q: What do you think happen in the end?
A: Maybe after a few months, the scandal will get worse, maybe not ... I would rather let the audience decide for themselves ...

Q: The movie credited Pedro and Agustin Almodvar, what is your relationship with them? Did they influence the film?
A: It is difficult to find an investment in Argentina ... so I thought about it and decided to try Spain ... I sent them the script and fortunately, they liked it and decided to invest in it ...

Nope ... they pretty much left it to me to direct the film ...

Q: How did you start on filming or this movie?
A: I have a big family. When I was young, my father bought us a videocam, but at those times, it cost as much as a CAR!
* audience laughed *

So, my father said who could know the workings of the videocam best would handle it. Guess what, I started taking the manual and memorizing it ...

As for the hotel, we used to visit it when I was young ...

Q: You depicted a scene of the teenage girl * censored *? Would the American audience accept it?
A: I do not think it is very explicitly depicted ... I think my other films have more explicit scenes ...

In sum: I would recommend it if you like controversial movies.

But it is done it a subtle and slow paced way ...

Re: La Nia Santa (The Holy Girl) (2004) (Argentina)

Postby wpqx » Sun Jun 25, 2006 7:20 pm

Howard's review of this was a lot more descriptive than I could have offered, but I think we had somewhat similar reactions. I enjoyed the ending, but the film has a somewhat lazy pace and Martel doesn't seem too concerned about anything actually happening.

Re: La Nia Santa (The Holy Girl) (2004) (Argentina)

Postby hengcs » Mon Jul 03, 2006 4:14 am

originally posted by wpqx

The Holy Girl (2004) - Lucrecia Martel

Hard to come up with anything to say about this film. Having not seen la Cienaga, I have no context for this within Martel's work. The film does have a wonderful quality of taking potential soap opera material and handling it in a very subtle way. The relationship between the two friends is great and they manage to have a unique and fascinating bond. I think this one might require some more deliberation.

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