14 August 2017 | gailspilsbury
Contemporary and creative snapshot of young adult life.
Argentine filmmaker Matías Piñeiro's Hermia & Helena continues his direction of contemporary stories linked to Shakespeare's heroines, in this case the love-crossed women from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Loosely, the filmmaker's protagonists, Camila and Carmen, share love objects the way Shakespeare's Hermia and Helena do—Camila loves Lukas, Carmen's old boyfriend, and Carmen has her eye on Leo, Camila's old lover. Riffing further on Shakespeare's love for "switches," Camila and Carmen swap apartments—Camila takes over Carmen's New York City pad to pursue the same arts fellowship that Carmen has just left; and Carmen takes over Camila's pad in Buenos Aires. In a sense they swap lives, but with different end results, for Camila, whose fellowship project is translating A Midsummer Night's Dream into Spanish, has clear objectives and purpose, while Carmen feels she's wallowing in the same place as the year before.
The movie's achievement is its rendering of contemporary life, not only in its portrayal of young adults coping with carving a satisfying future for themselves, but also in its filmmaking techniques, or creativity. Hermia & Helena will likely get few stars from viewers who judge according to convention, but its contrivances, artifice, and experimental intrusions add the exact dimension of young artists at work today.
Agustina Muñoz as Camila is worth the entire ninety minutes in the theater. Her face, all of its thoughts and expressions, and her voice, so firm and self-assured, mesmerize but also deliver a wonderfully powerful female character. (Thank you, Mr. Piñeiro.) The passivity and guarded personality of Lukas (Keith Poulson)—Camila's character foil—also portray reality in two ways: the lack of opportunities for trained artists in a glutted and information-age professional world, and the fear many young adults—not just men—have of risking a serious relationship. In contrast to Lukas, Camila has no fears and goes after what she wants. She's in New York not really for the arts residency but in order to find an old love—Gregg (Dustin Guy Defa)—and also to meet her American father Horace (Dan Sallitt), who never took any responsibility for her mother's accidental pregnancy, nor ever considered looking for his Argentine offspring. Because of her intelligent, direct approach, Camila gets the answers she's come for. Her father's past disinterest and dissociation inevitably cause her grief, but her rational understanding of people and life allows her to accept him, at least formally. Here, there seems to be an important omission in the subtitles. Camila's in bed under the covers at her father's house after their painful conversation. We hear her voice leaving a message for her half-sister Mariane in Buenos Aires who has just given birth to a first son. Between restrained sobs, Camila congratulates Mariane and says, "Camilo," we assume the boy's name. But the subtitles say, "Beautiful" and omit the "Camilo." Thus, a deep love-tribute to Camila is lost, and it's an important one for it juxtaposes Camila's sisterly love against the nonexistent paternal love of her past, and probably her future.
The interspersed contrivances that contemporize the movie for better or worse, depending on the viewer, include periodic rag music for transitions; flashbacks to Buenos Aires marking each month Camila has been in New York; the subplot of Daniele (another Shakespearean swap, this one of friends); Gregg's short film (a film within a film alla Pyramus and Thisbee of A Midsummer Night's Dream); handwritten chapter titles, not unlike acts; and a few dream sequences showing Camila's unconscious at work on her translation (possibly paralleling the fairies' forest). But all of these devices work in their mishmash way toward a resolution for the principal characters that completes the movie—with a door shutting and opening, shutting and opening (just like life). Both Camila and Lukas agree to set out and dare change—an unknown future—rather than stagnate in the same place. Piñeiro's filmmaking mirrors the characters' trajectory and steps in its own uninhibited and creative direction.