Hermia and Helena, the latest – and longest – of Argentinian director Matías Piñeiro’s series of loose Shakespearean adaptations, is a bright and intelligent engagement with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The film focuses on an Argentine theatre director called Camila (played with lively bi-lingual verve by Agustina Muñoz), who accepts a fellowship in New York to translate A Midsummer Night’s Dream into Spanish. While there she encounters lovers, old and new, and, in the film’s great climax, meets her biological father for the first time. The sequence is a feat of sustained conversational uncertainty, delivered with a conviction that glues your attention to the screen.
“bright and intelligent”
Not all the creative decisions quite come off. At times, words and/or pictures are superimposed over the footage (usually passages from Shakespeare), to varying effect. There are a couple of strange and jarring uses of flashback, with questionable necessity. Other touches work very well. Scott Joplin music underpins much of the film, lending the New York scenes a light, almost Woody Allen-ish feel (I mean, of course, one of his many New York-set rom-coms, not, ironically, his own take on the Bard, 1982’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy). Much of the character interaction is engagingly natural and most of the narrative moves along at a brisk yet considered pace.
Adapting Shakespeare is always something of a risky endeavour, the more so the further one strays from the source material, but here the looseness is a valuable asset. Rather than stuff his original story into the pre-existing shape, Piñeiro makes the links to the play largely thematic – an enhancement, rather than a necessity. Hermia and Helena goes undoubtedly large with its subtext, but it is the deft, well-scripted character work which makes this film a winner.
Image: Matías Piñeiro