Short Take: Hermia & Helena

(Matías Piñeiro, USA/Argentina, Kino Lorber, Opens May 26)

The people who move through Matías Piñeiro’s last three films—all of which center on young artists staging or translating Shakespeare plays—lead lives of chaotic uncertainty. At various points in Hermia & Helena, Piñeiro’s fifth feature, directions are garbled, appointments missed, addresses changed, e-mails lost, and letters sent to the wrong recipients.

Friendships, family ties, and romantic attachments likewise form haphazardly and dissolve at a touch. When Camila (Agustina Muñoz) takes the place of Carmen (María Villar) at a writing fellowship in New York to translate A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she still has a boyfriend in Argentina; in the course of her stay, she gets involved with a musician and a filmmaker, befriends one of the program’s nomadic alumni (Mati Diop), and seeks out her estranged father (Dan Sallitt). What knits this parade of conversations and encounters together are Piñeiro’s rapport with his actors, his eye for telling peripheral details, and his skill at sketching out a coherent space within even the most casual composition.

The movie’s first hour, like the Scott Joplin rags that fill its soundtrack, is a delicate miracle of lightness and melancholy. But when Camila and her father quietly subject one another to a long cross-interrogation, the film’s stakes shift under us. We realize that for the length of the movie we’ve been watching someone haggle—and contradict herself and double back—over how her life should run.

Hermia & Helena will screen at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.