About a month ago, I came across a review from the Locarno Film Festival about a film called Helena & Hermia. Loosely based on the eponymous characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it was directed by Argentinean filmmaker Matías Piñeiro, and forms a continuation of his ‘Shakespeareada’ – an ongoing interrogation and recontextualising of stories taken out of Shakespeare’s plays (so far, only his Comedies), and placed in the suburban environments of Buenos Aires.
To date, Piñeiro’s ‘Shakespeareada’ consists of Rosalinda (2011), Viola (2012), The Princess of France (2014), and the just-released Helena & Hermia (2016). In both Viola and The Princess of France, the two of his films more readily available, the structure is essentially similar, albeit in slightly different augmentations: there is an extended sequence of material from the respective Shakespearean source-plays (in order, As You Like It; Twelfth Night; Love’s Labour’s Lost; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream), followed by a series of riffs, loops, fugues, and rhapsodies upon the material – both seen and unseen – by the characters.
With each running barely more than sixty minutes in duration, these films pack a lot in but it never feels like there is not enough development of the ideas or themes. And while a sometimes more-than-basic knowledge of the plays will help you unravel some of the knottier manifestations of Piñeiro’s fugues, what is intoxicating is how he twists Shakespeare’s play to suit his own ends; the ‘Shakespeareada’ are not slavish reproductions of their sources, but free rhapsodies upon their themes and characters, and this freeness is utterly delicious.
There are elements of Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde here, in the way characters cross in and out of shots and sequences, in the looping motifs of playing one scenario several times over with barely a change in dialogue, as well as a kind of Steve Reich-like fascination with a scene or portion of dialogue. Indeed, in the way characters – or character-types – cross from one film to the next, in a rather Shakespearean fashion. This continuity helps to establish the notion of the ‘Shakespeareada,’ even if it was not originally conceived of as thus. Aside from drawing upon the same pool of actors (they are all Piñeiro’s friends), characters start to blur together; but there’s also another intriguing and more clever link at play here; I think ‘play’ is the appropriate word in every sense. In Viola, we see a play in action – an actual play Piñeiro created out of lines and scenes and fragments from half a dozen or so of Shakespeare’s plays (again, mostly Comedies), and which was recorded (you can find it on the DVD of Viola); in The Princess of France, the same characters-playing-actors assemble to record the play for radio, alongside portions of Love’s Labour’s Lost, and we realise that the latter film takes place approximately one year after the events in Viola, a move which is entirely in keeping with the plot of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, where the four women tell the four men to not declare their love so readily, but to wait a year and a day, and then see how they feel.
You get the feeling here that for Piñeiro, the space within Shakespeare’s plots are just as important as that which is spoken or seen. And in many respects, Viola and The Princess of France are two of the most inventive adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays for the cinema, as it uses (and sometimes exploits) the audio-visual language of cinema to full intoxicating effect; the same sort of effect you might get in a theatrical performance when every element of the production is singing from the same page. It’s beautiful, intoxicating, and a little bit mindbending, and I love it.