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NYFF 2014: ‘The Princess of France’ Is an Enchanting, Breathless Riff on Shakespeare

By  · Published on October 7th, 2014

The Cinema Guild

Once upon a time actors were outcasts, in the category of criminals and prostitutes. To be an actor was to commit to your art at the expense of your social standing. Now, in America, actors have become heroes. Hollywood stars are ubiquitous millionaires. Our show business movies are about the glitz of the industry and its arguably empty core. We don’t really think of actors as bohemian artists anymore. You would never believe a script in which a bunch of young American thespians hang out at an art museum and talk about 19th century French traditionalist painters.

That happens in the latest film by Matías Piñeiro, whose work continues to be eminently refreshing. The Princess of France, is the third in a trilogy of Shakespeare-inspired films set amid the young artists of Buenos Aires. These projects aren’t true adaptations but rather settings of the Bard’s style, cinematic curios that capture the essential mood of the comedies. A large cast, a dizzying number of romantic entanglements and a charming interest in the little details of courtship are the bread and butter of these films, the latest of which takes most directly from “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”

The plot, to the extent that it can honestly be boiled down, is built around a young man named Víctor (Julián Larquier Tellarini) who has just returned to Buenos Aires from a long trip to Mexico. Waiting for him is a web of former and future lovers, actresses who have come to form a sort of repertory troupe for Piñeiro. Agustina Muñoz is Paula, the girlfriend who waited for Víctor to come home. Romina Paula is Natalia, the prior ex-girlfriend still holding some resentment. María Vilar is Ana, an occasional lover who meets Víctor for a clandestine reunion in the National Museum of Fine Arts. Yet this is no way the cliche, tired narrative of a man beset by the loves of three women, Barney’s Version in Spanish. Piñeiro knows that these women, along with the many more minor characters, are more interesting than Víctor. He is building a world, a Shakespeare-inspired theatrical space, rather than a drama.

He does that in a few ways. One of them is just the sheer number of interesting, articulate characters, especially apparent in a film of just 70 minutes. If The Princess of France has one weakness it is in the speed of its subtitles. What is likely a rapturous waterfall of dialogue to a native Spanish speaker requires a bit more work from a foreign audience. Yet jogging to keep up with these actors has its rewards. Piñeiro’s preoccupation with language and the structure of narrative leads him to create scenes that resemble whirlpools. Characters return to the same places to say the same lines, looped through identically staged and framed shots. Sometimes it is for comic effect and makes standard narrative sense, other times it feels as if the director is intentionally remixing time.

These moments become the dramatic highlights of the film, made so not through the emotional import of the content but through the sprightliness of the actors and Piñeiro’s adventurous use of form. This approach allows The Princess of France the rare opportunity to interact with Shakespeare without declaring immediate, respectful subservience to the text. The film opens with a visual prologue, taking a convention of many of Shakespeare’s plays but adapting it to the tools of cinema. A single shot looks down on a pickup soccer game held between the large apartment buildings of the Argentine capital. Set to the music of Schubert, first introduced by a charismatic Italian DJ, it’s an early triumph in a film filled with enchanting moments. It might also be the best opening shot of the entire year, a distillation of Piñeiro’s gift for playful blending of artistic influences and quietly bold cinema.

The Upside: The Princess of France is an enchanting and tangled web of romance, Shakespeare and cinematic time.

The Downside: The long list of characters and their rapid fire dialogue can make this film hard to follow at first, especially with subtitles.

On the Side: Vilar’s pregnancy in the film is real; it was not in the original script, she simply happened to be pregnant when shooting began and Piñeiro worked it into the film.

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