'Girl': A Holy Mess

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Friday, May 27, 2005

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THE HOLY GIRL (R, 106 minutes)

"The Holy Girl," a subtle-to-the-point-of-soporific drama about lust and spirituality from Lucrecia Martel, Argentine director of 2001's award-winning "La Cienaga," feels like something I know is supposed to be good for me, but that I just couldn't stomach. Despite its obvious pedigree, and a pleasingly creepy mood -- made all the creepier by a couple of appearances of a wandering theremin player who shows up in certain scenes for no logical reason -- I'm tempted to write "I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it," except that I actually like spinach, and I could barely keep this half-baked dish down.

Set in a mildly seedy hotel, where a group of visiting doctors has gathered for a medical conference, "The Holy Girl" centers on the activities and the (possibly overactive) imagination of Amalia (Maria Alche), the striking if slightly possessed-looking teenage daughter of the hotel's sexy, divorced proprietor, Helena (Mercedes Moran). When one of the conference attendees, Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso), appears to have rubbed his crotch up against Amalia in a crowd, the girl is simultaneously horrified, sexually aroused and convinced that she has been called by God to save the doctor from sin. But whether Jano has actually done anything is open to interpretation.

As viewed through Martel's somewhat ambiguous camera, it's never 100 percent certain what, if anything, he has actually done, despite Amalia's confiding the act to her best friend, Josefina (Julieta Zylberberg). Could it have been an accident of proximity on a crowded street or a genuine case of frottage? We'll never know. Martel's film stubbornly refuses to clarify things, which, depending on your point of view and your appetite for open-endedness, is either this film's greatest strength or greatest weakness. Personally, I love stories that don't resolve themselves into tidy little packages. They feel more like real life. But this otherworldly one, with its persistent mood of trance-like uncertainty, clouded by the humid mist of teenage lust, sweaty middle-aged guilt/embarrassment and icky sexual rivalry (Helena, you see, also finds herself attracted to Jano), is so open-ended that I wondered whether the final reel mightn't have fallen off the FedEx truck on the way to the theater.

The Holy Girl (R, 106 minutes) -- Contains sexual content and brief nudity. In Spanish with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Michael O'Sullivan


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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