Director: Matías Piñeiro Writer: Matías Piñeiro Actors: María Villar, Alessio Rigo de Righi, Agustina Muñoz Runtime: 65 min Rating: PG
A film based primarily on dialogue must be well acted in addition to being well written. When a movie uses spoken words as opposed to action to create interest, the actors and actresses who are featured cannot escape the spotlight, and every flaw in their performances becomes starkly visible. Fortunately for the film Viola (2012), the talented young actresses who constitute its cast are as strong and mesmerizing as they are lovely, and they easily fascinate an audience as they deliver the words written by director and writer Matías Piñeiro, as well as those of Shakespeare himself.
Viola is an Argentinian film that marks Piñeiro’s breakthrough into mainstream North American cinema. Set in Buenos Aires, this film tells the tale of romance and mystery that surrounds an all female Shakespearian theatre troupe that is rehearsing and performing the classic comedy “Twelfth Night.” Inevitably, the stage roles of these ladies spill into their real lives as life begins to imitate art and their worlds begin to become entangled. Viola (María Villar) is a young woman who delivers bootlegged DVDs to customers throughout the city, and when she runs into members of this group one chilly day, nothing can halt the events that are set into motion.
Piñeiro has chosen attractive stars for his film, and his camera is aware of this fact, spending much time lingering on their faces and expressions. We spend entire scenes watching one character watch another, but far from being tedious, their reactions are interesting and illuminating. Most of the film is made up of conversation, as the characters discuss love and relationships and reveal nuggets of wisdom, truth, and opinion. The remaining scenes show the actresses rehearsing their play, although these moments that oscillate from telling the play story to telling the film story often reveal information about their real lives as well. Although the words they speak often remain the same, as the same lines are practiced over and over again, they sound different each time they are spoken, and bring something new to our understanding of this well known play.
One of the strongest aspects of this film is undoubtedly its genuine characters. One often feels as if they know these individuals and can relate to their difficulties, as they speak like real people and interact honestly. The actors may be relatively unknown in North America, yet they easily transcend this divide and endear themselves to their audience. Nothing in particular happens to these characters over the course of the film, but it is enough to simply watch them converse and interact. The mise-en-scene is also worth noting, never revealing a lot in each frame but forcing audience attention onto whatever is present. Piñeiro’s camerawork is gentle, as he stands back and often allows the audience to simply observe.
Viola is a short film that packs a punch. Films that focus on dialogue, such as the highly successful “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” series, can be captivating or easily fall flat. Fortunately, Argentinian director Matías Piñeiro has created a fascinating little gem of a movie that has a lot to say about life and love, and delivers these ideas in a quiet, gentle, and wholly mesmerizing manner.