We gave it an A-
Spiritual longing gets tangled up with erotic fever for the teenage girls who whisper in one another’s ears in Lucrecia Martel’s marvelous, psychologically unnerving second feature, The Holy Girl. And the confusion is electrifying — as if we have peeked where we shouldn’t, through a door marked ”Keep out” or a diary labeled ”Private.” All the girls in Martel’s dreamlike follow-up to La Ciénaga have holiness thrust at them — they’re classmates in Catholic catechism, residents of the same desire-fogged provincial Argentinean town where Martel set her outstanding debut drama. But Amalia (Maria Alché), somber daughter of a lonely divorcée (Mercedes Morán) who runs a local hotel, feels holier and more aroused than most. When a man (Carlos Belloso) rubs up against her in a crowd — he turns out to be a doctor attending a convention at the hotel — the young woman is simultaneously turned on by sex as well as by what she, in her hormonal and religious daze, identifies as the Holy Spirit. Her calling from God, as she sees it, becomes to ”save” the fallen man.
The blessings of salvation have rarely felt so mixed, the parameters of Lolita-hood so elusive — which is exactly Martel’s specialty. And as events unfold in ways that only become more charged and daringly unresolved, the filmmaker only gets wiser, her camera eye more astute at distinguishing sinners from everyday sins.