`Viola': A semi-mesmerizing, semi-Shakespearean mystery

            As “Evita” teaches us, The Big Apple for South Americans is not New York but Buenos Aires, that huge, sophisticated metropolis where a little avant-garde theater troupe is performing "Twelfth Night"---or bits and pieces of it---in the story at hand.

            The name of the film and one of its main characters is “Viola,” which is also the name of the heroine in Shakespeare’s comic “relationship drama,” wherein everybody gets caught up in a web of romantic intrigue and false identities.  Young Argentinian writer-director Matías Piñeiro has been exploring similar amorous capers in his own generation through a three-part Shakespeare project of which this is the second.

            First, a handy synopsis of “12th Night”: Orsino loves Lady Olivia, who rebuffs him.  Shipwrecked Viola, believing her twin brother Sebastian drowned, disguises herself as a boy and becomes a servant to Orsino, who sends him/her to woo Olivia, who falls in love with the messenger instead of the sender.  Sir Toby Belch (et al.) plot to make a fool of pompous-ass Malvolio, who’s also in love with Olivia, who sends him to the loony bin.  Sebastian turns up and is, of course, mistaken for sister Viola-in-drag. The confusion is finally sorted out, and all's well that ends well, for some---badly for others.

            You don’t absolutely need to know or remember all that, but since I went to the trouble of re-reading and condensing the whole goddam play---there it is.

            You mostly just need to know that “Viola” is a playful melodramatic mix-up about love and lovers, heavy on the philosophical side.  It opens with actresses Cecilia (Agustina Muñoz) and Sabrina (Elisa Carricajo)---as sexy Viola and haughty Olivia---intensely rehearse their first big scene, while two guys watch with fascination from the wings.

            Back in their dressing room, the women discuss the men---and men in general---with contrasting attitudes much like those of the Shakespearean characters they’re playing.  One of them is a forever lover: It takes her “months to break up.”  The other?  “When I don’t want it any more, that’s it---I’m done at once.”

            It’s fickle-faithless females fussing with false eyelashes, talking to each other via makeup mirrors, the camera focused as often on the listener as the speaker.  Several of them concoct a test to make one of them fall in love with someone else during rehearsals.

            Enter another woman---named Viola (María Villar)!  Her day job is delivering pirated DVD’s by bicycle, and this real-life Viola is just the opposite of Shakesepeare’s: Extremely passive, she never decides anything---just “lets things work out.”

            The various Violas and their boyfriends and girlfriends eventually encounter or criss-cross each other, with and without significance, during the story-within-the-story- within-the-play-within-the-film, interrupted (appropriately enough in 2013) by cellphone calls.  It gets progressively more engrossing and then suddenly, just when the multiple threads start coming together, a funky song starts and---at the 63-minute mark---the credits begin to roll!

            The excellent cast is excellently photographed in an excellent location.  The mysteries are left deliberately unresolved.  And we are left with a sort of New Wave Argentine cinema interrupta, marking Piñeiro as a director to watch for future potential rather than present completion.

            “If music be the food of love, play on,” says Orsino in his “12th Night” opening speech.  “Viola” leaves us with morsels---if not real food---for thought: a kind of delicious tepa appetizer that the waiter-director comes and snatches away before it and you are finished.



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