Labour of Love: The Princess of France

06/17/2015 8:17 AM |
photo Courtesy of Cinema Guild

The Princess of France
Directed by Matias Piñeiro
Opens June 26 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

33-year-old Argentinian director Matias Piñeiro is fast becoming a name on the art cinema circuit. That’s a real feat considering how lightly he allows his stories to unfold, how intricately he plays with narrative structure, and how mischievously he situates the Shakespeare comedies at the heart of three of his five fiction films. Like Twelfth Night-influenced Viola two years ago, the new The Princess of France subverts its inviting atmosphere with an oblique style, proving Piñeiro that rare director who can wed the shambolic and the meticulous, the unpretentious and the weighty, the strange and the quotidian.

Princess of France centers on Victor (Julián Larquier), leader of a theater troupe that last performed Love’s Labour’s Lost. He also possesses romantic entanglements with several of his actresses, including cheating girlfriend Paula (Agustina Muñoz), pregnant-by-another-man Ana (María Villar), still-smitten ex-love Natalia (Romina Paula), scheming friend Lorena (Laura Paredes), and newbie Carla (Elisa Carricajo). While putting together a radio production of the play, Victor both betrays and gets betrayed—what he learns from so many broken promises and ever-shifting allegiances remains uncertain.

Piñeiro is nothing if not daring. Not only does he begin Princess of France media res, only allowing the spectator to catch up on the action through dense, rapid dialogue, but he also crams into a little over an hour of screen time several films’ worth of mise en abymes, dream sequences, and multiple perspectives of the same narrative events. Cynics might see such experimentation as ornamental—how better lend artistic heft and universal resonance to a tale of beautiful twentysomethings than to rework the Bard in a modernist vein? Yet I found myself challenged and moved by Princess of France, which appears to make more than the usual life-imitates-art gestures: this is a film that demands several viewings in order to better understand its complex depiction of performance, deception, and language. And even if the game proves not to be worth the candle, there’s always Princess of France’s small-scale pleasures—a painting sensuously studied by Piñeiro’s camera, a perfectly blocked pas de deux between Victor and a lover—to which one can continually, happily return.