The Cinema of Matias Piñeiro: As You Like It

The Cinema of Matias Piñeiro: As You Like It
Agustina Munoz in "Viola."
(Photo by Alessio Rigo de Righi © 2013 The Cinema Guild)

The latest of the talented young-ish filmmakers to emerge from the independent film culture of southern South America, 31-year-old Matias Piñeiro arrives here with what seems to be a fully developed style and distinct set of interests.

“El hombre robado” (The Stolen Man, 2007), a sort of romantic farce set in a museum from which the characters are pilfering antiquities, and “Todos mienten” (They All Lie, 2009), which conflates art forgery with fiction-making and the historical record, are showing this weekend, July 13 and 14, as part of the Latinbeat series at Lincoln Center. Set in a vague urban bohemian milieu, they evoke Jacques Rivette or early Raul Ruiz in their elaborate, literary conspiracy games and Eric Rohmer in their fondness for talkative young people, mainly women. To act is to act in this world. “Instead of rooting stories in the soil of the real,” Dennis Lim writes in the current Artforum, Piñeiro’s films “emphasize the alchemical properties of fiction.”

“Viola,” Piñeiro’s latest film — included in last spring’s “New Directors/New Films” and opening Friday at Lincoln for a week-long run — is his most accomplished film to date, at once lucid and opaque using an amateur, all-female production of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing comedy “Twelfth Night” as way to parse the shifting relations among a group of actresses and their acquaintances. (Only 63 minutes long, it’s showing with Piñeiro’s earlier “Rosalinda,” a 40-minute movie drawing from another Shakespearean comedy of romantic and gender confusion, “As You Like It,” which is being rehearsed in plein air.)

“Viola” consists almost entirely of two-shot close-ups, filmed with a mobile camera but edited without establishing or transitional shots, effectively blending rehearsals, riffs, performances, dressing room discussions of various relationships, and off-stage encounters. The initial, flirtatious, innuendo-filled courtship scene between Viola (disguised as a man in Shakespeare, if not here) and Olivia (veiled as in Shakespeare, at least at first) is replayed with variations until it almost comes to seem a loop. Further ambiguity is provided by the introduction of a character, not in the play, who is also named Viola, who is invited to replace one of the actresses in “Twelfth Night,” and who contributes to the pervasive theme of copying and doubling by acting as a courier for her boyfriend in the business of duping and distributing bootleg DVDs — at least that’s what it seems like to me.

“Viola”’s sudden moment of voiceover subjectivity turns the movie back on itself, demonstrating what the Argentine critic Quintín, author of the first English-language report on Piñeiro, published a year ago in Cinema Scope, attributes to the filmmaker’s pushing “Shakespearean promiscuity” to the limit: “In the end any actor can play any character—including sex changes—as if all the bodies, the names, and all of Shakepeare’s and Piñeiro’s characters are impossible to distinguish.” It’s not just perverse but polymorphously so.

Read more J. Hoberman at Movie Journal.