Hermia & Helena

2016

Comedy / Drama

Synopsis


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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Gail Spilsbury 8 / 10

Contemporary and creative snapshot of young adult life.

Argentine filmmaker Mat?as Pi?eiro'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 Mu?oz 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. Pi?eiro.) 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. Pi?eiro's filmmaking mirrors the characters' trajectory and steps in its own uninhibited and creative direction.

Reviewed by Howard Schumann 7 / 10

A film about coming and going

Dedicated to Ozu star Setsuko Hara, Argentine director Matias Pi?eiro's Hermia and Helena follows his three previous films, "Viola," "The Princess of France", and "Rosalinda," with a work depicting characters loosely based on female heroines in William Shakespeare's comedies. Shot in Buenos Aires and partly in New York, the film centers on Camila (Agustina Mu?oz, "The Princess of France"), a Buenos Aires theater director, who has been invited to New York to translate Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" into Spanish and then go back to Argentina to rehearse. According to Pi?eiro, "It is a film about coming and going, about changing states, changing languages and sounds." Inspired by his own experience in New York where he came on a fellowship in the arts, Pi?eiro shifts the focus from a high energy fast-talking beginning in Buenos Aires to a more laid back thoughtful mood in New York. Camilla is in New York to replace Carmen (Maria Villar, "The Princess of France"), a friend from Buenos Aires, in the institute as well as in her rental apartment. Like the two young women in Shakespeare's play, Camila and her friend share relationships in a sequence of vignettes that take place over the course of a year. Divided into chapters bearing the names of the characters featured in the episode such as "Carmen & Camila," "Camila & Dani?le," "Gregg & Camila," and so on, the film is enhanced by a spirited piano score.

Pi?eiro manages to keep things light and the sequences have a playful feeling in keeping with the spirit of the Shakespeare play. Camilla begins where Carmen left off, picking up on her relationship with hipster Yank Lukas (Keith Poulson, "Little Sister") and local filmmaker Gregg (Dustin Guy Defa) who shows one of his short films made from footage of a 1940's black and white film with a voice-over based on Du Maurier's Rebecca. There is an enigmatic relationship with Daniele (Mati Diop, "Fort Buchanan"), another member of the institute, who has been traveling in the mid-west and who sends Camila post-cards from the cities she visits that Camila hangs on a map on her wall. Flashbacks to Buenos Aires also include Carmen's boyfriend Leo (Julian Larquier Tellarini, "Terror 5").

The film is about movement, from one place to another and from one relationship to another but the characters and their relationships remain undeveloped. Pi?eiro jumps from sequence to sequence without staying long enough for us to get to know them as human beings. Though the episodes are labeled "one month earlier," "three months earlier," and so forth, the flashbacks are confusing as to time and place and are difficult to follow. If we are left uninvolved in Camila's various attempts at personal connection up to this point, we are definitely engaged in her search for a deeper experience that leads to a reunion with Horace (Dan Sallitt, "Honeymoon"), the estranged American father whom she had never met.

Though Hermia's father Egeus in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a demanding parent who insists that she marry Demetrius and forego marrying her love for Lysander, Horace is not Hermia's authoritarian father but the reverse. In a visit to his home in upstate New York, the two exchange a series of intimate questions, playing a game of you ask, I tell, then vice versa. The conversation maintains a tone of civility and we get a more rounded picture of Camila but the film drifts slowly but noticeably into melancholy.

Pi?eiro has said about Hermia and Helena that, "Many plot elements remain somewhat hidden. Instead, you focus on the atmosphere that springs from the characters' encounters with each other." While the atmosphere is always present for us to focus on, the "somewhat hidden" elements of the plot border on obscurity and ultimately detract from our ability to understand the characters. According to the director, "Not everything is connected to everything." This was also true in my experience.

Reviewed by Raven-1969 6 / 10

Buenos Aires, New York and Shakespeare

Cities, centuries, cultures, crushes and characters from Shakespeare intertwine in a story inspired by A Midsummer Night's Dream. Camila is an art exchange student drifting between Buenos Aires and New York. The different worlds and people that she encounters reveal unexpected aspects of herself.

Shakespeare's play is quite complex as it is. Interpreting the play into Spanish, vaulting across hemispheres and learning an array of new and multifaceted characters, left my head spinning. Other than the brain freeze that ensued after trying to put all these elements together, the film is a dreamy, cerebral delight. I should have read or seen Shakespeare's play again before attempting this film. Seen at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.

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