Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 186
An Argentine woman translates A Midsummer Night’s Dream while incessantly taping travel postcards to a wall. Two Argentine actresses vie for the same role in Measure for Measure. An actress in Buenos Aires seduces her colleague while rehearsing a scene for Twelfth Night. A theater troupe flirts its way through rehearsals of As You Like It in an Argentine forest. If you’re noticing a pattern here, you’re not mistaken.
These scenes all come from the films of Argentine filmmaker Matías Piñeiro. Born in Buenos Aires and now living in New York, Piñeiro has developed a cycle of six beautifully-filmed movies he calls “The Shakespeare Reads,” all of which are based around the female roles in Shakespeare’s comedies. Piñeiro talks with Barbara Bogaev about his unique approach to his work and his craft.
Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud, NPR One, or wherever you find your podcasts.
Matías Piñeiro is a screenwriter, director, and filmmaker. The six films in his “The Shakespeare Reads” series are Rosalinda, Viola, The Princess of France, Hermia & Helena, Isabella, and the short film, Sycorax. Stream all of these films on MUBI, or buy them on Blu-ray and DVD from the Cinema Guild.
Piñeiro teaches filmmaking at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and coordinates the filmmaking department at the Elías Querejeta Film School in San Sebastián, Spain.
From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published Tuesday, March 15. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “To Play a Pleasant Comedy,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Josh Wilcox at Brooklyn Podcasting Studio in Brooklyn, New York.
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MICHAEL WITMORE: An Argentine woman translates A Midsummer Night’s Dream while incessantly taping travel postcards to a wall. An actress in Buenos Aires seduces her colleague while rehearsing a scene for Twelfth Night. A theater troupe kisses and flirts their way through rehearsals of As You Like It, inside an Argentine forest. If you’re noticing a pattern here, you’re not mistaken.
From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. Those scenarios I just described are all from the mind and the camera of an Argentine filmmaker named Matías Piñeiro. Born in Buenos Aires and now living in New York, Matías has developed a cycle of films he calls “The Shakespeare Reads,” all of which are based around the female roles in Shakespeare’s comedies. There are currently six films in the series: all ethereal, all beautifully filmed and all as far away from linear as movies can get.
Because here at the Folger, we don’t have a problem with what they’d call echarse flores—in Spanish, that is “tooting our own horn”—because we don’t have a problem with that, we’ll tell you that the star of one of Matías’s films is actually The Folger Shakespeare edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But that’s not the only reason we’re having him on.
As you’ll hear, Matías Piñeiro is an artist with a unique approach to his work and his craft. He came into a studio near his home recently to help us understand where he’s coming from in this podcast that we call “To Play a Pleasant Comedy.”
One note ahead of time for clarity. Throughout the interview, Matías pronounces “Folger” with a hard G—“FOL-gerr.” I’m mentioning that now because it will help you follow along.
Matías Piñeiro is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
BARBARA BOGAEV: There is a lot of Shakespeare in your movies, but I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re about Shakespeare or about Shakespeare plays. Would you? I mean, how do you think about it?
MATÍAS PIÑEIRO: Yeah. That’s usually something… I always say that these are not adaptations. I take some elements from these plays that I’m very attracted to. I’m not someone that comes from theater. It’s something that happens through my contact as a reader of Shakespeare.
This reading, and also this translation that I go through, because I’m a Spanish speaker, they allow me—at least, they allow me to have this sort of freedom of taking elements in order to make them circulate again and render these films that are not adaptations, but somehow are echoing elements: are the material. Are somehow—sometimes I say, like, the invisible architecture behind the films.
BOGAEV: Oh, that’s really evocative. While I watch your movies, I think that you are infusing your films with Shakespeare.
BOGAEV: They have the feelings and the sounds and the smells and some of the words of Shakespeare. How and why did you first start infusing your films with Shakespeare?
PIÑEIRO: I’ve been making movies for more than 10 years, and I’ve always been attracted to text, to literary text. My first movies had to do with a writer from Argentina from the 19th century.
When I did those movies—the second one of them that’s called They All Lie, the writer is called Domingo Faustino Sarmiento—I decided that in order to make the second feature, I was going to be writing it with two companion readings that had nothing to do with what I wanted to do in the movie at first.
One of them is a contemporary writer from Mexico, Mario Bellatin. And the other one was Shakespeare. That I knew Shakespeare, but then, when was the last time that I sat down to read a Shakespeare play that it was not in the context of college or high school? When is it that I sat down to read Shakespeare out for pleasure, not for duty?
I was looking to have companions that would help me to structure the film. I think that I went to Shakespeare as wanting, like, a sort of classical structure. I went through all the plays. I decided to check the Folio catalogue and go one by one, while I was producing this film.
Then, what I realized, that there was nothing too classical in Shakespeare, of course. Especially in one of the plays that I was very, very attracted to, at least, As You Like It. You know, that once they go into the forest, hard to keep track of the acts and the dramatic arcs, no?
BOGAEV: That’s for sure.
PIÑEIRO: Like, there’s nothing classical in that, in a way.
[CLIP from the 2010 film, Rosalinda, directed by Matías Piñeiro.]
ROSALINDA: (in Spanish) Sister, you shall be the priest and marry us.
ORLANDO: (in Spanish) Pray you, marry us.
LUISA: (in Spanish) I can’t say the words.
ROSALINDA: (in Spanish) Start with, “Will you, Orlando…”
LUISA: (in Spanish) Will you, Orlando, have to wife this Rosalinda?
ORLANDO: (in Spanish) I will.
ROSALINDA: (in Spanish) Ay, but when?
ORLANDO: (in Spanish) As fast as she can marry us.
ROSALINDA: (in Spanish) Then say, “I take thee, Rosalinda, for wife.”
ORLANDO: (in Spanish) I take thee, Rosalinda, for wife.
ROSALINDA: (in Spanish) I might ask for your commission, but I do take you, Orlando, for my husband.
PIÑEIRO: For me, it was very interesting that I went in for a reason, and then I discovered that there was something much richer than what I could think of. That, somehow, made it very approachable.
BOGAEV: I’m picturing you reading all of these plays in a row, while you’re trying to make a film. It makes me wonder, had you not read that much Shakespeare? You’re from Argentina. Is Shakespeare not as much a part of school and college curricula as it is here in the U.S. and England?
PIÑEIRO: It is. Of course, it’s part of the curriculum, both in college and in high school. But then, it’s a different approach because it’s something that is not from your country, and of course, it’s a classic. So somehow the approach was very much like, “Ah, look at this, that is so great.” There’s something of a little bit of a glass between you and the play. And, they were missing the plays that I actually got very interested in, that were the comedies.
Another thing that I should say, is that when I decided to read the plays, I didn’t read them in English. That was something that was very important, because I actually studied reading new translations from other editorial houses from Latin America that asked Latin American writers and poets to translate Shakespeare. And these are very special editions of contemporary writers, translating Shakespeare without notes. There were no notes.
PIÑEIRO: And there was a of course, like, a preface. Like a prologue, where they would explain what they decided to do with the play. But it was very interesting for me not to be interrupted; not for the footnotes, and not for the Spanish from Spain that is very different from the Spanish from Argentina.
When I read all the plays, I’m very happy reading the plays. I’m very attracted to them and, “Okay, I’m absorbing this. I’m relating to this. That it’s very interesting.” But it was only when I read As You Like It that I was like, “Ah, wait a minute, what is this? This is knocking on my door.” You know?
BOGAEV: And why do you think it was knocking on your door?
PIÑEIRO: Because of Rosalind.
[CLIP from the 2010 film, Rosalinda, directed by Matías Piñeiro.]
ORLANDO: (in Spanish) From the east to western Ind, no jewel is like Rosalinda. All the pictures fairest lined are but black to Rosalinda. Let no fair be kept in mind but the fair of Rosalinda.
PIÑEIRO: When I read As You Like It, I reread every line of Rosalind, I knew that it was interesting to photograph Maria battling with those words. Not against those words, but with the words. It would be photogenic to see her going through those lines.
LUISA: (in Spanish) Wonderful.
ROSALINDA: (in Spanish) Alas the day.
LUISA: (in Spanish) Wonderful. Wonderful.
ROSALINDA: (in Spanish) Alas the day.
LUISA: (in Spanish) No… no.
ROSLINDA: (in Spanish) Alas the day. Alas the day. Alas the day.
LUISA: (in Spanish) Wonderful.
PIÑEIRO: The first thing was that connection between character and actress.
BOGAEV: So it’s this very organic feeling that you had between the play, and the language, and this actress?
BOGAEV: And—you were reading Shakespeare in Spanish? Or English?
PIÑEIRO: First, Spanish. But because I like it, then of course, you move on and you read it also in English.
And same thing with the idea of the footnotes. I like footnotes. But it is interesting to experience the play without them. Well, it could be an interesting experimental work. But if you’re watching—you’re at the Globe theater, and all of a sudden, they interrupt the thing, so that they would explain you something. No. It’s interesting to go with the flow.
Then, as I got interested in the text, I want to know more. And that’s when Folger somehow appears in my life in a way.
BOGAEV: I think a lot of people feel this way. That the footnotes can be intrusive. You know, it takes you out of the moment, and the flow, and the drama. Although, you were just saying…
BOGAEV: I mean, it’s funny to hear you felt that way at all because these Folger editions, which are usually fully notated on the opposite page of the text, are kind of the star in your one movie, Hermia & Helena. And you have all these loving visual references to the Folger edition on the screen.
BOGAEV: We hear the sound of actors playing the scene in Spanish over the English words on the page.
[CLIP from the 2016 film, Hermia & Helena, directed by Matías Piñeiro.]
The wild hath not such a heart as you,
Run when you will. The story will be changed:
Apollo flies and Daphne holds the chase;
The dove pursues the griffin; the mild hind
Makes speed to catch the tiger.
BOGAEV: So, what was it about the Folger editions that you liked so much? Or was it just the one that happened to land in your hands at the time?
PIÑEIRO: No, no, no. I had many. I had many, but this is the one that I like. First, is this idea that I want footnotes. I don’t think that a game is over only on one take, you know? When you’re playing, you want to play again. If you like the play, you want to read it again. If I’m reading it in Spanish, I’m reading it also in the other translations from Spanish. This might also come from translation, that you access a work, but you know that there’s other possibilities.
Okay, with the footnotes it’s a little bit similar. I read the work, I’m interested and then, of course, it’s not satisfied, so I want to know more. And for that reason, I do want the annotated version. I do want to experience myself reading in a language that is not mine. And even in a language that is not the one that I learn in the English institute.
So, I’m attracted to that complexity. And I think that footnotes, in that sense, as I like the idea of flowing, I also like the other one. I do like the interrupted experience.
So, for me, the first thing that was interesting for me was the layout, as you have mentioned. I think that the idea that it’s not down, it’s not on the back of the book. The interruption is less, and somehow merges a little bit closer with the text in a way.
I like how its written. I like how they choose a whole phrase to somehow produce that possibility of what that phrase means. That helped me a lot for translating when I did my own translations. The Folger was very important for to me to, “Ah, that’s what they want. Ah, this is what is being referred. Ah.”
So, because it’s not just like, “Okay this is a note for one little thing.” No. It’s like a full sentence that is somehow deconstruct, explain, or variation. I also liked the moments where they explain the little plot. I really appreciate that. That summary, I really like it.
PIÑEIRO: Because, somehow, then I’m not stressed by it.
PIÑEIRO: I’m not needing to learn and know everything. There’s something about, like, having notes. Everything can be annotated, you know?
PIÑEIRO: So, I like how they decide to have notes on this. I wonder, “Why is it that this other word is not annotated.” I don’t know. I think that it opens up the play, you know? I don’t want to approach it in a way that it becomes flat.
It’s obscure for us, this text. I’m not scared of keeping a little bit of that obscurity. So, when I have them saying in Spanish, but the words in English, has to do with that; with not erasing the complexity of these texts.
BOGAEV: So that’s why you wanted it, literally in the film, the book.
BOGAEV: To give all these layers. Visual and layers of meaning.
PIÑEIRO: Yeah. And I work very independently in my films. Like, with people that are friends, that are my producers, the actors. So, I like to include in the film, everything that I like. It’s somehow a document. Even if these things are very fictional, they document, like, a slice of my life.
That’s why if I’m working with these texts, with Folger edition, these are the ones that are going to appear, because it’s natural. The things that are happening behind the camera, go in front at the same time.
BOGAEV: I love that. Your films are so organic. That makes sense now that you say it; that your movies are about actors performing and rehearsing Shakespeare. And then their roles in the plays bleed into their lives and intertwine until, in many scenes, it’s hard to tell where the Shakespeare stops and real life starts, or vice versa.
I’m thinking, for instance, in your film, Viola, an actor plays Viola in Twelfth Night. And she goes to the house of the actor playing Olivia, to rehearse their lines and then in the process it slowly—or quickly—becomes apparent that she’s seducing her fellow actor. It’s all part of a plot that she’s hatched with the other actresses in the production.
[CLIP from the 2012 film, Viola, directed by Matías Piñeiro.]
VIOLA: (in Spanish) Make me a willow cabin at your gate and call upon my soul within the house. Write loyal cantons of contemned love and sing them loud even in the dead of night. Hallow your name to the reverberate hills and make the babbling gossip of the air cry out “Olivia!”
PIÑEIRO: I say that I don’t come from theater. But because of that very same reason, the cultural center from the public university in Buenos Aires, they asked me to do a play. It was a series where they would be inviting artists that have never done a play, to do their first play.
So, in my experience in theater, having not come from theater, I experienced certain things that were very different from cinema. One of them was the idea of repetition.
PIÑEIRO: The idea of, you do the play today, and it’s like if you would be doing a one take, sequence: like, shot, in a way. But then, next week you have another opportunity.
For me, it was very curious, that sort of, very intense moment at one point, one evening. But then, next week, being able to do it again. And then, all the repetitions that we did, all the rehearsals that we did. The idea of repetition appears very much. I decided that that should be part of that film that I’d done with Shakespeare’s plays.
I thought that also, when I was reading the plays, and I was very much enjoying—I don’t know—the lines of Rosalind, for instance. I would read them again. I would repeat the real experience. It’s not that, “I really like this paragraph, I’m going to continue reading the next line.” No. Usually, I go back and would read it again.
So then, I said, “How can cinema do that?” Because when I put Shakespeare in the movies, it’s because I enjoy it. I enjoy reading Shakespeare. I would like to share that enjoyment with the audience.
In my first film, Rosalinda, I didn’t repeat, and I had that feeling, I think that I missed that. I enjoy those takes so much, but the film doesn’t allow me to hear them again. I think that you would extract more joy if you repeat them. So, I try to think a little bit of a plot, in order to make the repetition part of the plot of Viola.
VIOLA: (in Spanish) Write loyal cantons of contemned love and sing them loud even in the dead of night. Hallow your name to the reverberate hills and make the babbling gossip of the air cry out “Olivia!”
Hallow your name to the reverberate hills and make the babbling gossip of the air cry out “Olivia!”
Hallow your name to the reverberate hills and make the babbling gossip of the air cry out “Olivia!” O, you should not rest between the elements of air and earth, but you should pity me.
BOGAEV: Oh, that’s wild. Because this is the, “Make me a willow cabin at your gate,” scene.
BOGAEV: It’s almost like a ballet, the way the two actresses repeat the scene, the lines, over and over again, but in variation. And they move around each other, and there’s an amazing rhythm going on. So, you’re really enjoying everything you’re talking about.
BOGAEV: You’re enjoying the language, but also the seduction and the repetition, and the kind of hypnotic mood that it creates.
PIÑEIRO: Yeah. And movement. Movement and time and duration. The scene is quite long for a movie that is short. And then also, the idea that you would see them getting tired. I don’t know if you see that a lot in movies. When you see the actors actually get tired because it’s been, like, five minutes that the shot is going on.
And so after repeating, like, for the eighth time, the line, it’s not the character only, it’s also the person and the body that is expressing itself. There was something of that that I was interested in. And I know them very well, and we like to work a lot with the actors. I think that they also enjoy a lot seeing those takes. I think that camera can capture that.
BOGAEV: Yeah. And you do this in many of your films. You seem to hone in on this one scene or certain lines. They’re repeated over and over again and you get different takes on them. And you’re always working with this same ensemble of actors. It made me think, there’s probably no better real life parallel to Shakespeare comedies than theater troupes. You know, where everyone’s crushing on each other and sleeping around and switching partners
BOGAEV: Or except maybe, eighth grade because it happens so fast. Everyone’s trading best friends or trading crushes.
BOGAEV: And also, just like junior high, the women are so much more interesting and sophisticated than the doltish boys.
[CLIP from the 2016 film, Hermia & Helena, directed by Matías Piñeiro.]
CAMILA: Let’s go to your house.
CAMILA: Now is okay?
GREG: I guess so.
CAMILA: But what is secret?
GREG: What secret?
CAMILA: It’s this address in your book.
BOGAEV: The men hardly even speak that much in your films.
GREG: How long will you be staying here?
CAMILA: As long as you want to.
GREG: What about Buenos Aires?
CAMILA: Well, there will be some paperwork in the middle, but I could do it.
GREG: We could get married.
CAMILA: Why not? We can get married here and then in Buenos Aires.
PIÑEIRO: I like male actors that I work with and I think that they’re very good. But there’s a tendency that I’m more attracted to this female friend that I have, and I’m closer to them. There’s something of a continuity between me and them that is smoother.
Also, I think that that’s like a strange triangle with the comedies. That’s why I’m not doing it. I’m not particularly interested in the tragedies. I’m not even interested in the fools. If I’m interested in comedy, I might be interested in the fools. But I’m not even interested in them, even though they’re very good. But someone else can do something with them. I don’t need to do it myself.
BOGAEV: You’re not interested because you don’t know what you’d do with them in a film?
PIÑEIRO: Yeah. Yeah, I wouldn’t know what to do with them. I feel that I know what I can do with the actress, for instance, in Much Ado About Nothing. And I’m thinking of this friend of mine, Elissa, that is a very good actress. I think that she could be a very good Beatrice. There is a tension there—in the kissing/not kissing, these dialogues that are like little knives. I feel that I can do something with that. There’s something that connects with me, with my heartbeat, with my tensions, with my worries about love and desire. The wise irony of the fool, even though I can appreciate it, I don’t know if I can do something with it.
PIÑEIRO: So, I don’t know. For me, there’s an elasticity that I appreciate better. And now, working also with The Tempest; of course, it’s Prospero, or Caliban. But I decided to work around Sycorax.
[CLIP from the 2021 film, Sycorax, directed by Matías Piñeiro and Lois Patiño.]
NARRATOR: (in Spanish) You know this damned Sycorax, was banished from Argier for her terrible sorceries, too mischievous to enter human hearing.
PIÑEIRO: It was interesting, for me, to think even outside of the play. It’s the prequel. The movie I did with my friend, Lois Patiño, Spanish filmmaker. We did this sort of a prequel to a film that we want to make that is around Tempest.
NARRATOR: (in Spanish) Ariel, my slave. As you call yourself, you were servant of Sycorax; And you a spirit too delicate to act her abhorred commands, by force of her more potent powers.
BOGAEV: The women have such great rapport and play in their interaction in your films. This is a small thing, but to me, it seems like your movies are full of these women, kind of walking through the landscape of cities, or walking in the countryside. There’s a lot of these women purposefully moving through space. That is somehow really appealing to me.
BOGAEV: It must be to you, that you fill the transitions, are all these women walking somewhere.
PIÑEIRO: Yeah. There is something I enjoy very much. For instance, in Isabella, that is a film that is taking elements from Measure for Measure. It’s about two actors auditioning for the same role: for the role of Isabella. There’s one that seems to be with better chances, or with an energy that seems more inevitable, while the other one doesn’t.
I thought that those moments where she was walking so confidently in the street, in a very peculiar street in Buenos Aires. That is the one where all the cars and where you would go to buy the wheels and fix your engine, you know. Very male.
BOGAEV: Yeah. It’s very industrial. Very industrial.
PIÑEIRO: Yeah. So—and I like that this female body will be, like, sliding through it. Going through it to meet her destiny, that is to get the role. There’s something about her way of walking that is a little bit cock-ish. Very sure of herself.
BOGAEV: Yeah. She strides. Yes. Purposefully.
PIÑEIRO: Yeah. She’s going there. She’s not drifting.
PIÑEIRO: For me, it was like a motif, that it was interesting to have all through the movie. Those shots are all cut, all through the movie, because Isabella is very fragmented.
It’s a tone. It’s a movement. I mentioned before also, and you mentioned, this idea of the mise en scène, and the movement, and how they move. How it’s like a choreography. Well, there’s something about the way that I’m shooting the people walk that also have to do with this larger idea of choreography. Also, I like to shoot the city without having to be like a postcard.
PIÑEIRO: How do we experience the city. We don’t experience the city sitting down. We walk through it, we take the subway, we’re in a cab, we’re talking with a friend, we’re going in an elevator. We’re movement.
Then we can make the exercise of stopping and contemplate. You’re in movement, you lose track of things, you don’t see things clearly, even if you know your city very well. You maybe know the city very well because you walk through it, not because you just see pictures of it.
BOGAEV: Well, this is probably clear to everyone listening already, but your films aren’t linear. The action can seem to skip all over the timeline. Especially in your films Isabella, and especially Hermia & Helena.
BOGAEV: Watching, you’re never quite sure whether you’re seeing something that’s happening immediately after the thing you just saw, or whether you’re watching something that happened weeks or months before. What compels you to play around with time in that way in your stories?
PIÑEIRO: Yeah. Yeah. In these two movies, for me, was for increasing a sort of dramatic tension. The movies don’t have a super plotted—There are things of course, but I don’t like that much clarity, in a way. But I do want to make a sort of emotional thing with them.
So, for instance, I thought that in Isabella, it was nicer to know that the character is not going to get the role and then see her arriving to do the audition, than the other way around. For me, it was interesting that the viewer would know beforehand that the character would not get the role, and still she would do it. And still, she would do it good. Or even, like, having to come to terms with that. For me, it was not for plot, but for an emotional element.
And in Hermia & Helena, that’s a little bit more plotted in a way. Because you would see her in Buenos Aires, and that she would say, “Oh, I’m going for a residency.” And then, you see her in New York doing the residency or not doing anything at the residency. And then, “I’m going to meet my father,” and then you would see who this person… It would be like a cubic experience, in a way, but with a possibility of enhancing the dramatic unity, in a way.
BOGAEV: We should say also that there’s a leitmotif in the film Isabella, in which in many scenes someone’s rearranging colored squares on the floor. Also, you play with color and colored rectangles, and kind of the idea of a set, but you translate it into visual cinematic terms.
All of that reminded me of when I have to write an essay outline or scenes in a script, you take index cards, different colored index cards, and you move them around. And you play with the order of things in order to tell your story. Is that what you were thinking of? Is that how you actually plot out your movies?
PIÑEIRO: In this these last two, I would say that. Yeah. So when I start shooting I don’t have the full script of the full movie. I do have the script of what I want to shoot in this occasion. But I know that I will transform it in regards to what we will achieve in that shooting, what would be the best in that shooting, and what I can do in the next shooting.
I really need these, sort of, other ways of working. And that is, thinking, writing, shooting, editing. Thinking, writing, shooting, and editing. Like that, four times.
What happened to me near the end of this process was that I didn’t have a script that would say, “Scene one, scene two, scene three.” In that moment is when I decided that I would know that this scene should come before this one, and that this scene should come after this one. So I will start combining them like that.
I decided to take, you know, like, a screenshot of each shot, and print them, and cut them, and have them as card. I would display them on the floor of my house and create these sort of islands.
BOGAEV: A crossword puzzle.
PIÑEIRO: So, I was a little bit like that. I knew that the walking should be next to this, and that the audition should be after this other thing. And I would start doing that. So, areas would start to create.
BOGAEV: Wow. That’s a wild process. Do you do that because if you had, you know, this very strict outline, if you even put one together, it would kill the creativity for you? In you?
PIÑEIRO: I think that it would kill the present tense. I think that imagination comes from, like, creating something. That you have something; you have an actor and you write for them.
I think that maybe Shakespeare did somehow similarly at some point. That he wrote for people that he knew somehow. Or for a theater, or for a space, or for whatever. Or for sets and techniques. It’s the concrete that sets me in motion. I get bored. I think that it’s fake if you think that you can control everything so much.
PIÑEIRO: You can be like a sort of, god figure, that says, “And now…” I don’t know. I don’t like to work in that sense. I like to think a couple of things that are enough, and good and strong, and go and shoot that. Then, see what’s the best from there. And, like, start knitting again, you know? Because maybe you shoot and it’s not that good what you did. And you have to throw it.
BOGAEV: Right. How did using color in interesting ways—sometimes you saturate the whole screen with a color, or you have these abstract color block paintings as, kind of, transition cards between acts. You have mediations on colors. The film starts with purple of Isabella. What were you thinking there?
PIÑEIRO: Yeah. I was thinking of the idea of variation and relativity, also. First, as this is a movie that is the fifth on a series of films, these Shakespeare plays, I need things to be repeated. The actors, the city, comedies from Shakespeare.
But then I need some things to change. All of a sudden, I decided that I haven’t worked much around color in my films and I started to be interested in color. I become aware of my interest in color and I decided to include it.
I don’t know how much is this in English, but one thing that I like a lot, in Spanish, it would be púrpura. We never say púrpura, we say violet. We say violeta. For me, just that language short circuit, is interesting.
Then, for me, another thing that was kind of beautiful was that it’s not so easy to people to distinguish between mauve, purple, violet, lilac, and many other words that are very much in our language. But that doesn’t happen in orange. How many tints of orange do you know? Like different grades, shades, of orange that have actual words.
It’s not that I want to do a compete metaphor, but for me, there is a resonance in the way that I work time in Isabella. We don’t know when is now, when was before, when was afterwards. We don’t know which shade of purple we are.
BOGAEV: So what’s next for you? Is there another Shakespeare movie in the works?
PIÑEIRO: Yes, there is one. I said that I worked with Lois Patiño, a Spanish filmmaker, in Sycorax, that we took The Tempest and we worked around the character of Sycorax, Caliban’s mother. So, we did Sycorax because we want to do Ariel.
PIÑEIRO: Ariel is the feature film that we started wanting to do together, but we understood that we needed to do a short film to find our common language. So, in August and September we’re supposed to go back to Osiris Islands in Portugal to do Ariel. So, it’s a lot of going around in the island.
BOGAEV: Hmm. So are you rereading, and rereading, and rereading, The Tempest?
PIÑEIRO: Yeah. Yeah. And actually, I’m also cutting. Last week, actually, I got one of the Folger editions and with a cutter, I started dissecting the play.
BOGAEV: Literally chopping with scissors? Like cutting it up?
BOGAEV: Oh, great. Uh-huh.
PIÑEIRO: Yes. I actually did a little book where I stick all the segments and parts that I’m interested in. But now we’re seeing each scene, what is the participation of Ariel, and when Ariel is not there, where would Ariel be.
Usually, Ariel, they are going to places because Prospero is always ordering them what to do. And so, it’s very interesting. It’s like somehow, the behind the scenes.
Yeah. It’s like Prospero is there, giving the order, but then it’s Ariel that is performing the acts. Like bringing people together, producing music, being a harpy, producing the tempest. So, it’s a little bit about labor.
I know that Ariel has very connected with the idea of the intellect, but also, he’s the one that is going all around the island, performing all these tasks, asking for freedom. Actually, it’s the character that says, “Okay, it’s already six o’clock.” There’s a moment where they say that, which is very funny. It would be like a worker, you know, in the factory? And saying, “Okay, no, but I need another favor,” like Prospero, no? “Okay, okay. But next time, the freedom, no?” So, we’re working around all the errands.
BOGAEV: I just can’t wait to see your Ariel purposefully striding from one side of Portugal to the other.
BOGAEV: Well, so much fun talking with you. And I really enjoyed the movies. Thank you.
PIÑEIRO: Thank you.
WITMORE: Matías Piñeiro is a screenwriter, director, and filmmaker, born in Argentina and now based in New York. To date, he has produced six “Shakespeare-adjacent” films in a series he calls “The Shakespeare Reads.” The films are: Rosalinda from 2010; Viola from 2012; The Princess of France from 2014; Hermia & Helena from 2016; Isabella from 2020; and the short film, Sycorax from 2021.
You can can stream all of these films at MUBI, which you can reach at mubi.com. Or you can buy them on Blu-ray and DVD at the Cinema Guild’s website, which is Cinema Guild—one word—CinemaGuild.com.
Matías also teaches filmmaking at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and coordinates the filmmaking department at the Elías Querejeta Film School in San Sebastián, Spain. Matías Piñeiro was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
Our podcast episode, “To Play a Pleasant Comedy,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez.
We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Josh Wilcox at Brooklyn Podcasting Studio in Brooklyn, New York.
If you’re a fan of Shakespeare Unlimited, please leave us a positive review on Apple Podcasts.
Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, folger.edu. Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.