Buenos Aires and New York are forests of romantic entanglement, identity-searching and adventure in Argentine filmmaker Matías Piñeiro’s artfully frothy “Hermia & Helena,” its title taken from the pair of love-struck young women in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Having journeyed from South America to accept an artist’s residency in Manhattan, theater director Camila (Agustina Muñoz) finds herself easily distracted from translating the Bard into Spanish by enigmas new and old: a string of mysterious postcards from a woman named Danielle (Mati Diop); playing emotional footsie with a boyfriend back home (Julián Larquier), an American flame (Dustin Guy Defa) who makes experimental films, and her fellowship liaison (Keith Poulson) in New York; and seeking out the American father (Dan Sallitt) she never knew.
Pitched as a series of time-hopping, duet-like passages played out with flirtatiousness and wry comedy — and appealingly steered by Muñoz — Camila’s excursions are indisputably eccentric. But they’re also tinged with the melancholy of being torn between home and away, between the text of life and how to translate it into meaningfulness moving forward. (The soundtrack’s use of wistful Joplin rags is sublime.)
Piñeiro’s camera also has a remarkable way of seeming fixed but active, like an engaged spectator who knows the lyrical pull of a wide pan across the city or an inserted close-up of a hand or a flower or room detail, and even how to turn superimposed handwritten text into jolts of whimsy. For discerning moviegoers, the affably disorienting “Hermia & Helena” might just be the right kind of midsummer night’s dreaminess.
‘Hermia & Helena’
In English and Spanish with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena