“I think of them as chamber films,” Matías Piñeiro says of the four intimate and beautifully crafted films that make up an intensive TIFF Cinematheque program called Divertimentos: The Films of Matías Piñeiro, running from April 3 to April 6 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Speaking to us over the phone ahead of the retrospective, which spans his still early but already accomplished career, the 32-year-old Argentine filmmaker seemed pleased with the title that programmer Brad Deane selected, which suggests something musical and modest—a host of informal ensemble pieces.
Though he has received his best critical notices to date for his luminous fourth feature Viola, the story of a DVD courier (Maria Villar) who crosses paths with an all-female acting troupe putting on a mashup of scenes from William Shakespeare’s comedies (one of which, Twelfth Night, happens to have a Viola of its own), Piñeiro is in no hurry to break out of his chosen form and reach for a bigger canvas. The limited scope and small casts of his films, he insists, give him the freedom he needs to concentrate on what he’s most interested in; namely, the musicality of dialogue and the way contemporary stories emerge from our engagement with art that predates us.
While some of his contemporaries shy away from extensive dialogue, Piñeiro makes it his central preoccupation: characters in a Piñeiro film tend to talk circles around one another, expressing themselves (and deferring expression) through their professions of love and their cryptic citations of literary texts that have multiple meanings. “I talk a lot,” he admits. “And I like to watch other people talk.” Films aren’t just made up of images, he reminds us, but of sound and montage. One of his anti-inspirations to that end is silent cinema, whose formal strangeness interests him: the more of it he watched, he tells us, the more he moved in the opposite direction, such that his last two films, Rosalinda and Viola, can be thought of as playful and densely packed Shakespeare adaptations—chatty reimaginings of As You Like It and Twelfth Night, respectively.
The idea of making something new out of something familiar clearly appeals to Piñeiro, who conceives of Viola as a kind of artisanal pirate, who lovingly stamps her bootlegged packages with an “M” insignia—itself cribbed from the title art for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. “It’s piracy but not quite piracy,” he says of his protagonist’s work, “warm piracy, maybe. Personal and homemade.” That gentle riff on piracy extends to Piñeiro’s own work, which finds much that is contemporary and fresh about Shakespeare’s characters’ discourses on love, and allows his own characters to claim those insights for themselves. From the friction between the text and its revision, he tells us, “comes fiction.”
It helps that Piñeiro has assembled a stable of actors since his first feature, The Stolen Man, including Villar, who has in some ways become the face of his films, Romina Paula, and Augustina Muñoz—all of whom emerge from the theatre scene in Buenos Aires. It isn’t that they’re a travelling company and always collaborate, the filmmaker explains, but that “they are together in the films.” “I don’t see myself as a filmmaker without them,” he adds. “They merged into my idea of cinema, and now it’s hard to take them out.”
Part of the appeal of these actresses for a filmmaker who envisions contemporary Buenos Aires as a cultural metropolis is that they represent a new kind of professional —polymaths who also work as writers, teachers, and dramaturgists. “They’re people who do not depend on acting, in a way, and I like the way that shows in the films,” he says, pointing out that they are often cast not only as performers, but as creators, whose work is as integral to shaping the films as his own.
Speaking of the importance of getting a retrospective like Divertimentos at this point in his career, Piñeiro admits to a certain fondness for Toronto, which has produced some of his early champions: Cinema Scope Magazine founder and editor Mark Peranson and TIFF’s Wavelengths curator Andréa Picard. As for the critical success of Viola, which has put him on the map in the past year—the landing of a coveted spot in MoMA’s prestigious New Directors/New Films program was one of his recent achievements—he sees it as the result of his persistence. “If you like making films,” he says, “you keep making films, and you evolve your craft and get smoother in the process. It’s a bit like sports—it’s something you keep on doing.” Eventually, he adds, “the works will start to talk, independently of you,” becoming a motley collection of textual brothers and sisters.
Piñeiro will be on hand to introduce each of his films, as well as his own carte blanche programming selection—Bernardo Bertolucci’s French New Wave–inspired second feature, Before the Revolution. For information on showtimes and ticketing, visit TIFF’s website.