Viola and Rosalinda open at Film Society Lincoln Center on July 12;
El hombre robado and Todos mienten screen as part of Latinbeat Film Festival 2013 on July 13 and 14.
All four of the films Matías Piñeiro has made over the last six years—two feature-length works (2007’s El hombre robado [The Stolen Man] and 2009’s Todos mienten [They All Lie]), and two short features (2010’s Rosalinda and 2012’s Viola)—carve out a series of small spaces in which characters circulate and intersect with one another: the dim corridors and galleries of a museum; a family summer home; even the city of Buenos Aires itself, figured as a loose collection of intimate spaces—some apartments, a small theater, a minivan. Here, the characters beguile and trap each other with a mix of Shakespearean dialogue, riddles, dramatic rehearsals, pop songs, wordplay, and other cultural ephemera.
All of these films concern a similar group of twentysomethings, with similar concerns and similar jobs, nominally creative and usually temporary: actor, musician, docent, or, in one case, dispatcher for a pirated music home delivery service. This is not so much a precarious way of living as precarity as a way of living, one not without its own little pleasures and stratagems. In this way, instability is layered into the otherwise carefully composed network of stories that make up Piñeiro’s films, which continually extend and even undermine the potentialities of narrative, mischievously seeking out its false leads and dead ends.
This gives way to a sort of paradox in which, while Piñeiro’s films are distinctly his own, they are also unmistakably works of a collective process, ever toeing the precarious line between the tightly controlled and collaboratively generative. Each film forces a kind of synergy of its diverse energies, with sly, open-ended editing and precise but unfussy compositions that carve out a unique space in which the actors roam.
Across these four films, Piñeiro and his troupe of collaborators have developed a strangely paradoxical style: one that’s complex without feeling ponderous, literary without feeling like homework. Sometimes messy, sometimes controlled, Piñeiro’s films toy with narrative convolutions and the interweaving of dialogue and literary references: there are appearances by fellow Argentines Jorge Luis Borges and the 19th century statesman and writer Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and many performances, rehearsals, and casual citations of scenes from Shakespeare’s comedies As You Like It (in Rosalinda) and Twelfth Night (in Viola).
Some of these can be hard to decipher or keep up with: lines from the plays trip over and intersect with everyday speech as the characters become entangled in just the sort of labyrinthine, gender-blind romantic situations peculiar to those plays. But the films are less about untangling the layers of hidden meanings or decodable subtexts and more about locking into a certain rhythm, an underlying collective pulse that sets the pace and organizes the gestures and utterances. The films don’t presume a knowledge of Shakespeare nor, for the English-speaking audience, do they demand careful scrutiny of subtitles; rather, they invite one to tune into a certain way of living and talking and making things and hanging out: both the performers’ and that of their flighty, alluring characters. So, in the latter two films, recitations of lines from the plays sometimes come out of nowhere and are interrupted with an unexpected shift in tone: a kiss, some idle gossip, a dip in a pond.
It’s a delicate balance, and to achieve this Piñeiro has wrangled a unique set of performers—usually a large cast of friends whose easy interactions speak of a great deal of shared experience beyond the boundaries of the frame and the take: María Villar, Agustina Muñoz, Romina Paula, Julián Tello, Alberto Ajaka, and Julia Martínez Rubio. Each of these, especially Villar, who appears in all of Piñeiro’s films, is given a great deal of space even amid the often-loopy situational architecture of the films, and is often isolated and observed by cinematographer Fernando Lockett’s camera, which at all times maintains an uncanny universe of off-screen space. Together, usually, with the sure hand of editor Alejo Moguillansky (himself a fairly prolific director), this group constructs a loose but efficient ambience, both visually and sonically bright, in which these bodies can move and communicate and the stories can unfold.
In the later films, Rosalinda and Viola, the emphasis is on circularity, loops, and reversals. These two films are composed of a sequence of rituals, rehearsals, and ringtones that shape and reshape loose romantic affiliations and disrupt relationship holding-patterns with the impish seductions of language: Rosalinda, with its intersection of Howard Hawks’s madcap dialogical rhythms and the sylvan languor of Shakespeare’s Arden and Viola, by subtle contrast, with its intimate encounters composed in the gray palette of a Buenos Aires winter. Both films depart from break-up phone calls—one received, one given—and then spiral out into variously connected scenarios: in the former, some rehearsals in the woods, some downtime (including swimming, gossip, a small orgy, and a late-night role-playing game); in the latter, a performance, a rehearsal session turned make-out session, some random meetings in the street, and a band rehearsal.
None of these scenes advances a plot as such; all of them chart a small constellation of friendly associations and liaisons which amount, perhaps, to a worldview and, beneath it, brim with collaborative energy and happy accidents. This is especially evident in El hombre robado, whose scenes are often abruptly truncated, the result of a flaw discovered in the camera negative while filming. Piñeiro and company, embracing the accident, retained these arbitrary interruptions in the final film, a gesture toward its own haphazard process. In Todos mienten, too, there is a steady erosion of reality and fantasy as the characters vie in an exchange of strategies and counter-strategies, gentle subversions, and deceptions amid the otherwise lethargic tempo of a summer in the country.
But here again, the point is less to parse truth from fiction than to revel in their thorough inextricability. From the romantic and linguistic free-for-all of Piñeiro’s films emerges a warm and playful sensibility in which games and stories and lies are as much a part of reality as cold, hard fact, in which poetry and theater trade lines with daily life in a lovely, mercurial call-and-response. This might explain why more than one of Piñeiro’s films concludes with an offhand performance of a half-learned, half-improvised pop song (usually on guitar and Casio): it’s as if life itself is a space of experimentation in which, if you don’t know the words, you can always just bluff your way through.