VIFF 2016: Hermia & Helena (Matías Piñeiro, 2016)


Like his previous features Viola and The Princess of France, Matías Piñeiro’s latest takes a Shakespeare play as its jumping off point, in this case A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But it’s seemingly less invested in the play at its heart than those others (at least at first glance, more research may reveal structural similarities I didn’t pick up this time, it’s been awhile since I read the play), instead it’s a kind of a coming of age film, but jumbled such that it feels like a wholly fresh take on that well-worn genre. Agustina Muñoz plays a young theatre student who moves from Buenos Aires to New York on fellowship to translate the Shakespeare play (her notebooks, with page after page of the play pasted into them, are one of the film’s many small pleasures). While there she visits her father, a man she’d never met, played by critic and filmmaker Dan Sallitt, is visited by a friend of a friend (actress and director Mati Diop, from Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum), and carries on a tentative romance or two, but not in that order. Piñeiro also mixes in scenes in Argentina before her departure, and in New York before her arrival, when one of her friends (María Villar, who played Viola in Viola) lived in the same apartment as part of the same program and dated the same man. The tone throughout is light and playful, even the meeting with the father, though painful and awkward, is suffused with good-humor and warmth. Aside from the jumbled timeline, there’s little of the formal daring of Viola, with its oblique narrative and repeated lines of Shakespeare, or of the brilliantly goofy opening shot of Princess of France. As such, it’s Piñeiro’s most accessible, most easily digestible film.

Taken in quick succession, as I saw them at VIFF, these films Hermia & HelenaThings to Come and After the Storm come to encompass an entire lifespan: the boy from the Koreeda growing into the students of Hermia and Things to Come, who in turn grow into the adult parents of Storm and Things, leading inevitably to the loneliness of late middle age, as marriages dissolve and the younger generation moves away, finally resting on the weary good humor of the elderly Kirin Kiki. These are three filmmakers of different ages from three disparate corners of the world, yet the spirit of these movies is the same: warm and bittersweet and a little bit absurd. Of course, then Paul Verhoeven came along to shatter this globalized humanist dream with Elle, which isn’t exactly a satire and isn’t exactly a nightmare, but creates a world in which the happy existentialism of wistful contentment has no home, where life isn’t about abstraction but the brutal physicality of emotion and the hideous, desperate struggle to achieve and maintain power and control.

The Frances Farmer Show #7: SIFF 2016 Midpoint Report

Almost halfway through the marathon that is the Seattle International Film Festival, we take a break to talk about some of the films we’ve seen so far. Movies discussed include: Chimes at Midnight, Sunset Song, Love & Friendship, Long Way North, Our Little Sister, Alone, The Island Funeral, Concerto, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle, Cameraperson, Women He’s Undressed, In a Valley of Violence, The Final Master, Lo and Behold, The Lure, Tiny, The Seasons in Quincy and Scandal in Paris.

You can listen to the show by downloading it directly, or by subscribing on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice.

Some corrections:

The woman in The Island Funeral takes a trip with her brother, not her sister.
The Seasons in Quincy starts in the winter and ends in the autumn, not summer, because that’s how seasons work.

SIFF 2016: Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)

chimes pot

Orson Welles was a vain human being but he was not a vain movie star. A character actor at heart, Welles always gravitated to the grotesque. He loved to play fatally flawed individuals, the more makeup the better. Nowhere is this predilection more pronounced than in Welles’s closest analog to a vanity project, the Shakespeare amalgam Chimes at Midnight, which borrows from five different plays to build a portrait of the corpulent, drunken, “sanguine coward” John Falstaff.

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Episode 3: Prospero’s Books and The Princess of France

With the First Folio in town at the Seattle Public Library, we take a look at a couple of unusual Shakespeare adaptations. First is Peter Greenaway’s 1991 adaptation of The Tempest, Prospero’s Books, with John Gielgud and Mark Rylance. Then we discuss Matías Piñeiro’s 2014 riff on Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Princess of France. We also pick our Essential Shakespeare films, look around at what’s coming soon to Seattle Screens, and discuss the 1946 film Dirty Gertie from Harlem USA, directed by Spencer Williams and playing as part of the Pioneers of African-American Cinema here in town and touring around the country.

You can listen to the show by downloading it directly, or by subscribing on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice.

Macbeth (Justin Kurzel, 2015)


Opening this week at a few screens around town (the Uptown, the Seven Gables, along with the Grand in Tacoma) is the latest high-profile adaptation of a Shakespeare play, with Michael Fassbender as the Scottish usurper and Marion Cotillard as his ambitious wife. Directed by Justin Kurzel, this Macbeth proves a solid entry in what must be considered the Games of Thronesification of the historical film, with an outsized emphasis on the lurid details of medieval warfare. The brooding sense of doom, of course, comes right out of Shakespeare, but where previous adaptations by Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa found shadows and fog in the text, Kurzel finds blood. Whether that is an improvement or not I think depends a great deal on how important you feel verisimilitude is to realism. At its best, the film has some of the hallucinatory power that gives the play an eternal aura of mystery, like Nicolas Winding Refn’s psychotic Viking epic Valhalla Rising, but with words. At its worst, it’s simply Fassbender looking confused and mumbling incoherently.

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Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)


This Thursday, Orson Welles’s most-underseen masterpiece Chimes at Midnight is coming to the Scarecrow Video Screening Lounge. Welles, of course had a legendarily messy filmmaking career, one that can be reasonably-evenly divided between his studio films and his independent productions. The studio films are the most famous, featuring also the former consensus all-time #1 Citizen Kane, the butchered masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons and the too-twisted-for-Hollywood noirs The Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil. His independent films include the dishonest documentary F for Fake, the schizophrenic and multiform funhouse Kane Mr. Arkadin, an adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial (which Welles quite rightly notes is a comedy) and three Shakespeare films: Macbeth, Othello and the greatest of them all, Chimes at Midnight, in which Welles combines parts of the two Henry IV plays with bits from Henry V to tell one story about the fat, blustery rogue Sir John Falstaff.

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