Young Critics: Zosha Millman over Hermia & Helena
In life, a city may not be a “character,” as the idiom goes. But breathing that fresh air, doing new things—you may just be a whole new person.
Camila isn’t quite sure what she is. Recently arrived in New York from Buenos Aires for a creative residency program where she’ll translate “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”—the Shakespeare play from which the film directly draws, with its title, riffs, and on-screen references—to Spanish, taking over the position from her friend Carmen. In Carmen’s former house and art program, Camila finds herself delving into her life in New York, even as she carves out her own nook.
Hermia & Helena plays with Camila and Carmen’s layers, adapting Carmen’s collage form to the screen to overlay text straight from A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Camila’s life. Chapters are cut in with Scott Joplin, framed with loopy, handwritten text addressing the primary players, bounding along with all the airy cheeriness that Agustina Muñoz brings to the role of Camila. Though the story is, in theory, relatively straightforward, writer-director Matias Piñeiro uses the chapter format to add wrinkles in time; toying with the reality and order of operations, slowly peeling back the layers on Camila’s journey to New York by returning to key moments on her final day in Buenos Aires.
Some of these layers are more affecting than others; a journey to visit a man from her mother’s past (Dan Sallitt) or the arrival of former resident Danièle (Mati Diop) brings out more gradation in Muñoz’s performance, hinting that Carmen is not as guileless as she lets on. But whether one vignette is more interesting than the other isn’t the point, just as it wasn’t for the actual Hermia and Helena. Piñeiro balances the fluffier bits with a vivacious energy, bounding along but still keeping a hand on the wheel of the narrative. His ellipses and attention seem deliberate; the camera is always following and focusing on particular details—Camila’s slight smile at Danièle’s anger, her hands as she tapes postcards to a map, or her face as she processes a conversation with Horatio—even if it means leaving the viewer out of half a scene.
This coy scope helps complicate the narrative further: Hermia & Helena’s homage to A Midsummer Night’s Dream comes bearing gifts and messages, passed from one person to the next, almost always through some intermediary. Its indirectness helps keep the viewer on their toes as Piñeiro continues to dance around Camila’s true motivations for going to New York and making the choices she does.
It’s a smart choice, given that there’s not too much more to Hermia & Helena than quirky style. The puckishness of its protagonist can make the plot a bit too flighty to ever let a moment fully land with a viewer. It’s a gift and a curse for Hermia & Helena; when the lights come on and the credits roll the movie sticks with you like a dream, giving you so much to ponder and nothing at all.