NYFF review: Hermia & Helena (Matias Piñeiro)

One of the biggest surprises I had at the 54th edition of the New York Film Festival was Matías Piñeiro’s Hermia & Helena. Piñeiro’s earlier films, including Viola and The Princess of France, did little to impress me, leaving me cold and uninterested in his style and prose. Hermia & Helena, on the other hand, shows great maturation by the young filmmaker, perhaps due to it being his first film set in the United States, giving him the opportunity to grow. The movie tells the story of a young Argentine woman, Camila, who travels to New York City to take a fellowship in translating works of Shakespeare. During this time, Camila struggles with her translation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, pursues various romantic and personal relationships, and meets her estranged American biological father.

Piñeiro presents Camila’s development and growth in an autobiographical manner. Like his character, Piñeiro moved abroad to pursue a fellowship, and also similar to Camila, he had a boyfriend from home who had moved away. Likewise, Piñeiro’s films have been adaptations of Shakespeare. While Camila has been translating Shakespeare in language, Piñeiro has been translating it from text to screen and admits to having struggled, like his character, in doing so.

There is a scene in the movie where a character comments to Camila how important the year 27 is in terms of discovering who you are and where you want to go in life. It’s perhaps one of the last years of a young person’s life when they can make major choices and changes and still feel like they have opportunities ahead of them. In these instances, Hermia & Helena seems very much to be a movie about the discovery of who you are. There is much sexual discovery for Camila during this time, as she dates three different men, and she even goes on a road trip to see her biological father, exploring her roots. A supporting character also makes a road trip from Montana to New York City, continuing the theme of discovery and personal adventure.

Piñeiro choreographed much of the camerawork with a sense of rhythm. His cameras are constantly in motion, even in a small movement or pan (much like one of Piñeiro’s major influences, Hong Sang-soo). This idea of movement is used to present Camila’s growth as an individual. Thematically this can also be seen with the images presented. Early in the film, there are postcards of flowers that are burnt, but later on seeds are planted. This sense of destruction and revival is very important to self-discovery and regrowth as Piñeiro’s main thematic focus in the film.

Piñeiro normally uses a familiar group of actors in his films. Agustina Muñoz plays Camila and delivers a moving and terrific performance. Her strength and poise imbue a sense of heartbreak and give empathy to her character. Piñeiro still uses some non-professional actors as well. While it’s not always a bad choice to use new actors or non-professionals in a movie, it doesn’t quite work here. In a few cases the acting is very stiff and in need of more fluidity. In this regard, Piñeiro himself still is growing as a filmmaker and improving.

Regardless of the acting, Hermia & Helena is a thematically stylistic success. Piñeiro has moved from a new, technically immature director, to someone who is more confident and successful. With the constant talk of the death of cinema, Piñeiro single-handedly gives me hope and confidence for a bright future of film.