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Darren H

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Matias Pineiro's Viola opens this weekend in NYC, so it's time for a thread. I'll be surprised if it doesn't take the top spot in my Best Theatrical Releases of 2013 list.

Here's the (not-so-great) trailer:

And here's what I wrote last year:

The great discovery of TIFF 2012 was Matías Piñeiro’s Viola, a fantasia on love that dances between dreams, theatrical performances and a kind of hyper-sensual reality. “When he was singing, I thought I truly loved him,” the title character says in the film’s closing line. It’s typical of Piñeiro’s fluid perspective — a wistful, past-tense comment on a joyful present. Had I not known Piñeiro is barely 30 years old, I might have guessed this was an “old man” movie. His acute attention to potential love (or infatuation) is almost nostalgic, as if that surplus of feeling is so profound because it was always so fleeting. There are three kisses in the entire film, each significant in its own way, but like the particular scenes from Shakespeare that Piñeiro cuts and pastes into his dialogue, all of Viola is charged with barely-suppressed desire. I don’t know how else to put it: this is a really horny movie.

Except for a brief interlude in which we see Viola riding her bicycle through town, delivering packages for her and her boyfriend’s music- and film-bootlegging business, Piñeiro and cinematographer Fernando Lockett adhere to a unique visual strategy throughout the film. Each scene is built from only a handful of shots. Characters are typically framed in close-up, usually from slightly above and with a very shallow, always-shifting depth of field. The camera moves often but in small and smooth gestures. And, most importantly, nearly all character movement happens along the z-axis.

That’s all worth mentioning, I think, because the form of the film — or, more precisely, the video; Viola sets a new standard by which I’ll judge other indie DV projects — is so integrated with its content. Piñeiro often builds scenes around three characters. In some cases all three participate in the conversation (my two favourites take place in a theatre dressing room and in the back of a mini-van); at other times, two characters talk while a third remains just outside of the frame, either literally or metaphorically. Viola is a talky movie, and its eroticism (for lack of a better word) is in its language and in its shifting compositions of faces. Piñeiro seems to have found a new form to express the classic love triangle. The closest formal analogy I can think of is the café and tram sequences in Jose Luis Guerin’s In the City of Sylvia (2007), in which faces fold into and out of one another at different depths of field.
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Just saw this.  Guerin’s In the City of Sylvia (2007) is a good comparison.  Once you become comfortable with the slow pace, you find Piñeiro’s characters alluring and charming to watch and listen to.


Two things immediately come to find.


First, I love how the film takes the time to savor the language and dialogue.  If you're willing to be patient with hearing lines of dialogue repeated over and over and then over again, suddenly you'll find how different and how much meaning can be embedded into (or withheld from) language.  The one scene where the same lines of dialogue are repeated multiple times is a scene that actually grows tense.  The intensity seems to be in the air around the two actresses who are practicing Shakespeare ... and then it builds and builds some more.


Second, Piñeiro cleverly blends the Shakespeare scenes into the real life scenes so seamlessly that, if you didn't already know the plays, you would sometimes have to guess which conversations were part of the play and which were not - the romance and intrigue fits right in.  And, given a few scenes, you also begin to wonder if some of the Shakespeare scenes might actually be real.  And that makes for quite an enjoyable film.

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