The prolific Argentine director Matías Piñeiro is no stranger around the festival circuit. With his fifth film in a seven-year period, Piñeiro’s latest, a multilingual tale between two cities, finds the Argentine filmmaker working within a New York City landscape for the first time’ balancing back and forth between Piñeiro’s hometown of Buenos Aires and New York. Following Camila (Agustina Muñoz), a young theater director staying in New York City under an artistic residency, Hermia & Helena follows her as she works on developing a Spanish translation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” As Piñeiro explores Camila’s struggle with living in a new environment and maintaining old relationships only through the means of a computer screen, his latest works marks what is perhaps the most dramatic change of pace in his work so far as a director.
Piñeiro is very much a filmmaker who works within a space, as he explores the bodies that occupy them. Focused both on his characters’ surroundings and their interactions with one another, Piñeiro regularly calls for his viewers’ attention as he continuously draws elements together. Whether it be a key sentence told over a shattering gesture or a cut between continents, Hermia & Helena is very much a film of two elements being compared and contrasted. The intertextuality of working between two variables allows for the audience to contextualize one source with another. By showing one variable before and then moving on to the next draws light between the given variation. Piñeiro’s films operate at such a precise mode that no cut goes without having a purpose.
There is a metatextual element to Camila’s approach to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that lingers all throughout the course of Hermia & Helena. Piñeiro implements the thematic text of Shakespeare’s work into his own film but avoids having it feel like a direct riff on the subject. As a director, he’s much more centered on exploring the modernity of the Shakespeare’s comedy and utilizing specific attributes of it into the film. Not necessarily mirroring Shakespeare, but rather Piñeiro is capitalizing on the role of this 16th-century work and applying attributes of it into the context of today’s world.
As Camila tries to find a balance in this foreign terrain that she’s now embedded within, there’s this underlying struggle between past and present that Piñeiro hones in on all throughout the film. When Camila finally reunites with her estranged father, Horace (played marvelously by Dan Sallitt), it’s this grand communion between the past and the present. In a sequence where Camila and Horace take turns asking each other questions, Piñeiro pinpoints the genuine tension and nervousness that two both feel with one another. It’s rare that a sequence can emote this level of sentimentality without ever exploiting the situation of its characters, but with the sensitivity that Sallitt delivers juxtaposed against Muñoz’s raw emotion, Hermia & Helena makes for one of the most sincere portraits of reconciliation that we’ve seen in a very long time.