Lisbon & Estoril 2013 Review: VIOLA Is A Strange, Audacious Little Film From Argentina
The always interesting and exciting Argentinean cinema has been known for its very gritty realism and tight grip on the country's social and economic issues. Filmmakers like Fabián Bielinsky, Juan José Campanella and Lucía Puenzo lead with polished, socially invested productions. And then there's Lucrecia Martel and Matías Piñeiro, members of a group of young filmmakers who comprise an Argentinean New Wave of some kind and couldn't care less about mainstream drama where tragedy occurs and people learn and tears are shed. They seem to be more interesting in twisting narrative forms and playing around - which is the way anything remotely original tends to happen, really. Piñeiro's Viola is a very strange, puzzling film about women, love and... actresses, I suppose. Clearly an independent film in the most literal sense where everyone who's making it seems to be friends with each other, it follows a group of young actresses in Buenos Aires who are working on Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" while also just trading insights about love and men and everything else.
Where and how exactly Viola becomes so strange and able to put a "what the hell is happening" feeling all over your body is harder to go into. But suffice it to say, it's not always clear when they're rehearsing or living their own lives. It's not even clear who is playing whom and Piñeiro seems to get a kick out of using certain theater and Shakespearean tricks - and not like Kenneth Branagh would - to stretch and twist the narrative. From different actors playing different roles, meaning of course gender barriers being brought down, with women performing parts intended for men, to sudden and totally inexplicable changes in time and space and characters who seemingly have nothing to do with the actresses but are intrinsic to the overall story. This includes Viola, who shares a name with one of the play's roles and bikes around the city delivering bootleg DVDs and encountering pretty much every character in the film. All of this happens in just over an hour and doesn't seem to lead anywhere in particular, but it does hook you since Piñeiro knows how to make a conversation intriguing and, in one or two occasions, electric. The way he shoots his actresses is, of course, half of the work, enhancing detail in their every movement, pulling our eyes towards their mouths and their eyes as they talk and listen and basically do what everyone does on a daily basis, except not everyone reads Shakespeare for a living.
There's a constant awareness throughout the film that Piñeiro is purposefully trying to disorient. This could easily become plain masturbatory, but there seems to be a thought out plan somewhere in Viola - maybe in the way he layers everything and cleverly keeps us interested by changing the film's center point. It never feels like just another mosaic film, either; there are people who are intersecting and crossing paths, sure, but as the film progresses they don't come neatly together - in fact, they break apart, leading to an ending with its share of comic absurdism. I'm not sure if Piñeiro is even aiming at human connection, and he sure isn't paying any kind of homage to theater, but maybe at ambiguity, dreams or something else. One thing is clear: he's reaching too high, which you can't help but admire. In the end, though, the film unfolds breezily (if not for the really short runtime) and never bores, so if you happen to stumble upon this strange, little Rohmer-esque experiment, give it a shot. We might or might not hear from Matías Piñeiro ever again.