Repetition has become a kind of staple by this point for Matías Piñeiro and his ensemble films, but in his latest, The Princess of France (La Princesa de Francia, 2014), he goes to unprecedented lengths, and even the event of repetition itself is repeated many times. The story about the theatre actor turned director, Víctor, is a field for reiterations of speeches, patterns, illusions, dreams and obsessions. While in his prior film Viola (2012) there was a sequence that played with the blurred lines between dreams and reality, here there’s always doubt about what we’re seeing. Scenes are repeated twice, revealing two completely different attitudes from the same character, giving the sensation that we don’t know which of the two versions is the one that serves reality – if there is a reality in this film.
The Princess of France starts with an expressionistic dream sequence, a long shot that rivals those of the great masters of modern cinema, a counterpart of the final sequence of Stray Dogs (Jiaoyou, Tsai Ming-liang, 2013). But where the stillness of the bodies and faces, and the lack of any camera movement, is what defined the emotional power of that particular film, here it is the movement of the camera and the bodies within the frame that brings forward emotion and ideas about what the film might be about.
It starts on a balcony on a busy night in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. We pan from the balcony to buildings and darkness, some small alleyways dimly lit, all the way to a soccer stadium, where two teams start playing. This is the (playing) field on which the movie will take place, albeit allegorically.
We only see a little more than half of this small stadium, as it is partially covered by another building as the two teams start their game. Players appear and disappear from view as they go into the unseen area, an artificial “out of frame.” Slowly but surely the players of one team start disappearing out of sight, returning almost immediately wearing a shirt of the opposing team. It feels like a dance number, and we soon realise that the changes are somewhat in synch with the score.
The sequence ends as a team wearing bright orange shirts confronts the only player left on the opposing side, and there’s almost a sense of horror as we see how menacing they look. We see the terror on the face of the one person left as the players approach, first taking a step or two, then walking and finally running towards the lone figure, who runs away fast, looking back, trembling, while the growing group of players keep on chasing.
This film is about these kinds of relations among people, especially among friends of many years. Initially they appear as one group that works together, plays together and has many levels of relationships among them. They look good from afar. But when confronted with reality from the inside, we see that there are “sides” that form in discussions, and thus discussions become a sort of match. The film comes to represent a debacle among Victor’s friends, as he (and other members of the group) are systematically pulled apart from the rest, chased and confronted with their mistakes. This is a movie about isolation and being put aside by your own friends.
It is in his systematic way of treating the characters that repetition comes alive more than ever in this particular film of Piñeiro’s. As the variations progress, the film becomes more and more confusing, but in an endearing way. We get to know the characters through these repetitions of speech, scenes, sequences and dreams. Once a scene or dialogue repeats we know that we are in the mind of one specific character that is living a situation multiple times because they want confirmation of something that they suspect, or they are fantasizing about many outcomes at the same time. But it seems as if the fantasies of individuals here have weight in real life, as people remember conversations that never happened, or think that they have confessed a love that they’ve never truly felt.
It is the kind of confusion that happens in larger groups of people. In this case the group comes together because Víctor calls them to do a radio play adaptation of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. The intertextual parts of the film are the most interesting, such as when the romances of the play intrude into real life, or when the crazy adaptation that Víctor is preparing conflicts with who he thinks his girlfriend is.
At the end, Víctor is the lonely man confronted by the players in orange uniforms. It’s a game, the game of friendship and love, and even if the film ends with what seems to be a happy scene for him, we are quickly told by the narrator that this actually never happened, that this is what he thought would have happened if he did something right. He’s a screw up surrounded by other, stingier, yet less morally abject screw ups – but that’s how these kind of groups work, especially in creative spaces.
The Princess of France (La Princesa de Francia) (2014 Argentina 67 minutes)
Prod Co: Alta Definición Argentina/Trapecio Cine/Portable Films/I-Sat/Universidad del Cine Prod: Melanie Schapiro Dir: Matias Piñeiro Scr: Matías Piñeiro Ed: Sebastián Schjaer Phot: Fernando Lockett Art Dir: Ana Cambre Mus: Julián Tello, Julián Larquier, Juan Chacón
Cast: Julián Larquier Tellarini, Agustina Muñoz, Pablo Sigal, Gabriela Saidon, Romina Paula, María Villar, Elisa Carricajo, Laura Paredes, Alessio Rigo de Righi