Sexuality and religion are the two key themes in Lucrecia Martel’s The Holy Girl and they underscore every character of the film.The protagonist, Amalia, is a Catholic teenage girl who spends her days with her best friend Josefina, discussing and learning about their religion from their all-girl Catholic group. Amalia lives with her mother, Helena, who owns and runs the hotel they live in. The plot intensifies when a doctor’s summit is held in the hotel. Dr Jano is one of the attendees.
While Amalia stands in a group, watching a street musician play in her neighborhood, Dr Jano rubs himself against Amalia’s back. When the brief but prominent moment ends, it sparks Amalia’s ambition: to save Dr Jano from sin.
This scene displays Lucrecia Martel’s immense talents as a filmmaker. She shows us Dr Jano’s and Amalia’s lower bodies just for a moment, long enough for us to understand what is happening. Then we watch the rest of the scene unfold on Amalia’s face. This scene is more than just the physical action that takes place; it is about the thoughts and reactions racing through this young girl’s mind during this quiet, invasive moment. The audience lives moments like these with all the main characters in the film.
All the characters participate in sexual encounters that are considered “sinful”: Dr Jano’s lust and his guilt over it; Amalia’s pursuit of him to help save him, and Helena’s romantic interest in the much-married Dr Jano.
There is an intimacy in Martel’s direction in The Holy Girl. The shots are often lingering close-ups and medium shots that show the audience what to focus on: the actors and their expressions, what the characters are thinking and feeling based on what their faces, bodies or voices are telling us. Martel allows the audience to see the “sins” the characters commit (or in Amalia’s case, trying to cure) but she is in control of the audience’s focus. She creates a story that feels wrong to watch but you just can’t look away.
The Holy Girl is available on disc through Amazon.