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Holy Girl, The
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by PaulBryant

"A captivating, rapturous film that will enthrall your soul and mind."
5 stars

The Holy Girl is a film of whispers, soft touches, deft silences and unrelenting tension. The movie’s power is indescribable; it has to be felt. It will have you perking up your ears, leaning forward in your seat, and darting your eyes around its wondrously complex photography to catch every glimpse of human expression.

A certain Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso, who looks like a shockingly accurate amalgam of Richard Burton and Arthur Miller) is staying in a Argentinean hotel while attending a medical conference. The strange city he has arrived in is full of people who watch the same instrument-less musician perform beautiful music by merely waving his arms, and spread naughty rumors about doctors they’ve never met, and girls they think they know.

Usually half submerged and always fully dysfunctional are a frayed cast of characters who bounce around one another’s lost souls until all their coincidences and misplaced words finally catch up with them. Amalia (Maria Alche), a stern-visaged young girl lives with her mother (Mercedes Moran), a divorced former world champion diver, and searches amongst sex, music and swimming pools for her “vocation”.

After he, rather uncharacteristically, moves towards her while watching a public performance and touches her sexually, Dr. Jano seems to be Amalia’s best bet for salvation. At least, this is what she believes, based on her warped interpretation of religious instruction. And so, in lieu of anything better to do, Amalia nestles her furrowed brow into the soul-saving business, if only she can follow the rules of the religion she is forced to learn.

Wondering of destiny and talking of sin, the whispered conversations within her fellow Catholic student group are the surest way to get a look into what drives Amalia. Gossip around the circle consists of arbitrary remarks about their teacher engaging in sexually deviant acts, but never spoken of is the students’ own dalliances in carnal sinning. Those are the bits we the audience get to see; the rest is painfully repressed.

The hotel pool makes for an ideal meeting place for all involved, but instead of conversing, our cast plays voyeur with each other, taking in through eyes and ears all the misty echoic things they would never say to each other. Halfway through The Holy Girl there is an absolutely gorgeous scene which epitomizes the film’s startling utilization of accentuated sound and unconventional pictorial compositions. As he takes a dip in the pool, the aging doctor hears something: a tapping of metal on metal. His eyes search out what his ears already know – it is Amalia, the daughter of the diver for whom he is also developing an obsession. Standing, watching, behind an opaque sheet of plastic, the sequence is unique in its staging and development, with the doctor twirling around in the water, reframing himself, and Amalia peeking her eyes through the curtain. It tells us everything the movie is planning on telling us, which means it doesn’t give anything away without a price. And the payoff, much akin to the film’s ending, is scaled to the audience’s subjective interpretation.

The fantastic direction of Lucretia Martel makes The Holy Girl’s audience an active participant in the intricate unfolding of events. It is objective and theatrical at many important junctures, reminding more than once of the triangular compositions and extended takes of Orson Welles, whom it mirrors also in the way it crams the entire frame full of faces, moving extras, and all sorts of choreography. Feverish handheld camera interludes jump out just when the audience needs to stretch their ocular legs, and blend together skillfully - when we need to catch our breath - with the stillness and calm one feels swimming alone in a spa.

The camera in The Holy Girl is all-powerful. It braces mise-en-scene with intelligent character development superbly, not allowing visual manipulation to trump the actors’ ability to tell the story within an unbroken take. In ways popularized by Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, the stationary, sometimes stoically objective camera doesn’t always feel the need to move with an actor if they happen to stand up out of frame, or cross behind a wall. It is confident they will find their way back, and has the patience to sit and wait for the actor to realign himself into a more conventional position.

When the final act of The Holy Girl peeks its head through the opus, all that has gone before it makes sense. This is not a point-A to point-B movie, it’s a glimpse of time and passion, conviction and sensation; a transitory experience between innocence and responsibility, faith and truth. It gives passion to good, and heart to evil, but doesn’t let anything stand in black-and-white. In this regard, the heavy-hearted doctor could easily have come off as far too brooding, or conversely, far too creepy, but instead lands in the middle and allows our empathy amongst his afflictions.

A film doesn’t have to define itself; it can very often get away with merely unfurling a story, letting A become B without showing why or how, or even desiring an answer. The Holy Girl understands this, and relies on its audience to understand it as well.

It’s a film of grey areas; middle-grounds between love and lust, saints and sinners, water and air, sound and silence. It handles a full docket of intermingling characters with such grace and skill that you forget the camera is recording them. And when it ends, you’ll want to see it all again.

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originally posted: 05/31/05 15:48:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 New York Film Festival. For more in the 2004 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/01/07 Ingrid Calderon Absolutely divine. A stimulant of the mind and other areas. 5 stars
9/27/05 One of the few movies that trusts the viewer to form his own opinion. 5 stars
3/19/05 Todahe Inventive and brilliant 5 stars
9/20/04 denny i'm not sure how her actions were going to save him 2 stars
9/15/04 Abbe Osicka Did not like any of the characters, nor could I relate to them or the story. Very boring. 1 stars
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  29-Apr-2005 (R)
  DVD: 06-Sep-2005



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