Joshua Reviews Matias Pineiro’s Hermia And Helena [Theatrical Review]

It’s the summer movie season, ladies and gentlemen. Every Friday it seems as though the latest and greatest in mind-melting studio shlock arrives in your local mall’s cinemas, trying to be louder and more aggressively bland than the previous week’s offerings. And then there is he counter-programming.

For every insipid franchise picture or insufferable TV-to-big screen reboot, there is a superlative piece of small scale filmmaking just waiting to be discovered at any local art house or on VOD. This week’s offering is no different, and in fact announces itself as a respite from all the blockbuster flotsam and jetsam.

Matias Pineiro continues his fascination with the work of William Shakespeare, this time spinning this ongoing project into something deeply personal for the young, critically beloved filmmaker. With Hermia and Helena, Pineiro again introduces us to a series of characters that are deep in the throes of adapting (this time more specifically translating) the work of The Bard. This time it’s Camila (Agustina Munoz), a writer who takes over for Carmen (Pineiro muse Maria Villar) at a NYC-based writing fellowship.

For what amounts to a prologue of sorts, we meet Camila as she finishes her stay at the aforementioned workshop, and the banter here is pithy and intensely playful. We watch as she packs her apartment up, and bickers with a musician/filmmaker friend about the importance of leaving a gift for the group before she leaves. Opening on overlapping scenes of flowers set to rapturous rag tunes, the film announces itself as a lively, vital and yet quietly melancholic picture that only evolved into something even more potent.

We then meet our real lead, Camila, as she begins navigating through the life she now leads away from her home and her boyfriend. The two appear in love, and yet before you know it they have ended their relationship, and with the changing of the seasons (a continuing motif throughout this pictur) comes changing of moods and world views. The universe Camila rotates within is one of uncertainty and chaos, one of contradictions and thin connections.
The film truly takes a turn when Camila goes searching for and encounters her estranged father (which itself begins with a missed phone call). Played by Dan Sallitt, her father is a gentle, unassuming figure, and while the previous hour or so of the film is light and melancholic, the interrogation that follows between the two is intense, profoundly moving and driven to its heights by the two pitch-perfect performances. It’s in these quietly intense moments that the film truly shines.

It’s the type of quiet moment viewers don’t get in most films this time of year. Recontextualizing the moments before and after, it’s a moment that never assumes it’s own importance, instead plays out humanely, making the ground shift below the viewers feet with all the more certainty. And it’s also one of Pineiro’s most visually enticing works. Best known for long takes with a relatively free moving camera, this picture doesn’t change much camera-wise, instead using gorgeous photography and playful superimpositions to delve deeper into the central narrative. Be it the opening montage or the use of the slow foregrounding of lines from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which our lead is translating) as she sleeps, Pineiro is at his most playful, confident and assured here. And, as per usual, there are few filmmakers who get performances as seemingly lived in and layered out of his or her actors than Pineiro, and this film does nothing to prove that incorrect. Simply put, this is a quietly astounding piece of filmmaking.

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