Matias Piñeiro's Hermia & Helena begins almost identically as his last film Princess of France, looking down at the soccer field. But they are two very different films. Even though his usual light-as-feather approach at twenty-something's bohemian lives and romantic entanglements might be the same, but the tone, the tempo, the setting of the film is noticeably different in Hermia & Helena.
Taking a cue from A MIdsummer Night's Dream, Piñeiro builds up bi-continent tales of love and friendship, in his unique way without ever heavily delving into anything resembling of a plot. Just clocking in at 70 or so breezy minutes and like his other films, it solely relies on seemingly complicated, incongruous structure and charms of his regulars (mainly María Villar and Augustina Muñoz) and some new faces Piñero acquired during his 2 years living in New York.
Divided by chapters with characters names, we loosely track the flight of two friends: first, it's Carmen (Muñoz) finishing up her writing fellowship stint at 'the institute' in New York, living in the institute provided housing in Chinatown in winter, looking over the soccer field and the Coumbus Park. Then we are back to Buenos Aires, where her friends are. It's Carmila (Villar)'s turn to go. Camila, a small time theater director, at first, seems very much in love with her boyfriend (another Piñeiro regular Julián Larquier Tellarini), but not so much as we find out later. She feels ambivalent about the trip, leaving behind all of her friends for New York, translating A Midsummer Night's Dream into Spanish for her upcoming production. She embarks on anyway, and we follow her the rest of the film.
In snowy New York, Camila meets knick-knack of characters: there is Lukas 'the tall guy' (Keith Poulson) from the institute, who is kind of cute, Carmen's secret friend/lover Danielle (Mati Diop, a filmmaker/actress who's been popping up in many international productions), a fellow fellowship artist/writer/performer whathaveyou from France, traveling across the United States sending postcards from each state she visits to Carmen, because she doesn't know Carmen finished up her time in NY and went home, her former lover (Dustin Guy Defa) who is a filmmaker and her father (Dan Sallit) whom she never met who lives upstate.
Just like his other films, H & H is extremely talky, but the feel of the film is much slower even languid at times. It's not more contemplative, per se. Perhaps it's New York's snowy winter landscape that's bringing out certain melancholy to the film. Because of Camila's journey takes unexpected turns (in romance or otherwise) and because of the people she meets and we get to see her (sort of) motives, the film comes closer to a character study and feels more personal than any other Piñeiro films I've seen.
Shot gracefully by his long time cinematographer Fernando Lockett, but H & H showcases some other beautiful elements - long cross-fades to signify two different cities, almost Woody Allenesque, chirpy piano music, and black and white, movie-within-a-movie in the middle.
There are elements he plays with the Bard's work- be that in dialog or objects that are passed around or a father figure (or an idea of one). It's not a bad choice for inspiration or starting point to be playful, intermingling his love of books, music, poetry, good friends and other personal things and project that on the screen. It seems with Hermia & Helena, Piñeiro is upping the ante a little bit and put more cinematic playfulness in his small ways. And it's lovely.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com