A dialogue-heavy, meditative meander through a tangled web of romance in modern-day Argentina.
The Princess of France
More than anything else The Princess of France feels like an experiment; of form, of style, and of mood. Written and directed by Matías Piñeiro, and inspired by the work of Shakespeare, the film is a dialogue-heavy, meditative meander through a tangled web of romance in modern-day Argentina; nothing is particularly urgent, nor are the stakes ever raised from the bare minimum.
The Princess of France is Piñeiro’s third film inspired by the Bard’s work following Viola and Rosalinda, and much of the same cast returns. Julián Larquier Tellarini (Rosalinda) takes the ostensible lead as Victor, a young stage director recently returned from Mexico with some money to put on a radio play of Love’s Labour’s Lost, looking to reunite his troupe of female actors.
As Victor starts to slowly reconnect with the actresses, it becomes obvious that things are complicated with current girlfriend Paula (Agustina Muñoz), ex-girlfriend Natalia (Romina Paula), current lover Ana (María Villar of Viola) who is pregnant from another man, and two new women, Carla and Lorena. Getting to the center of this mess takes most of the brief 65 minute run time of The Princess of France; nothing is ever laid out, and as each scene unfolds, another secret tryst or complex yearning of the heart gets revealed. This is both the joy and the bane of the film.
It’s impossible not feel one step behind, especially when scenes begin unwinding and replaying with different characters and only slightly different dialogue. But the quick wit and fast paced conversation between these artistic and culturally tuned in 20-somethings is breathless. Piñeiro keeps everything confined and intimate, panning lazily between faces in a deserted art gallery, a recording studio, a bed, and on the quiet streets of Buenos Aires. Filmed as a series of extended takes with mostly natural light, the film can feel almost as lost as the characters within.
While it’s easy to fall into the lush runs of articulate, sensuous dialogue, it’s hard not to feel the lack of narrative tension. Aside from learning the dynamics of the several relationships only when they matriculate on-screen, not much is unknown or left in suspense except for the funding of the radio play, which never seems to motivate anyone at all. The lack of expectation leaves the film feeling turgid. It’s clear that Pineiro (who, it should be said, is very competent behind the camera) wants us smitten with these lovers and their half-hearted desires. And it’s almost possible, but for one fatal bruise: Victor. Tellarini does Victor service in his wanton sexual philandering and the way casually slinks from bed to bed. But still, we are given so little about the man and what draws so many women to him. His charm is never obvious. Neither is his passion or talent. The tempered waves of the world seem to slap against Victor’s nuanced surface and roll right off, which can make for interesting characters within the right scenario. In The Princess of France, it makes for a tension-free and charmless hour.
Much of this might be moot with non-Spanish speaking American audiences though, as the complexities of translating Shakespeare to Spanish, updating it to a modern Argentinian dialogue, then re-translating it to English via the subtitles, and combining it with lightning quick delivery might make for a potentially alienating experience. It’s unfortunate, because Piñeiro’s film does deserve an audience, even if only to make way for whatever follows next.
What’s clear in The Princess of France is the talent involved. If the film is less than great as a whole, its beauties are clear and particularly striking, especially considering its limited budget. The cast do a lot with what their given, and it’s impossible to ignore the moments where everything falls into place, turning The Princess of France into the shockingly intimate, charmingly breathless film it wants to be.