In the 2018 edition of Porto/Post/Doc, we dedicate a focus to Argentine filmmaker Matías Piñeiro, with the screening of several of his films. In this interview, we discuss the genesis and obsessions of Piñeiro's cinema, through his actresses and methods.
Q: You did the Film School in Buenos Aires. How did you become interested in cinema?
A: I became interested in cinema through going to the cinema with my mother on the weekends in the late 90’s when I was a teenager. I remember watching Burned By The Sun by Nikita Mikhalkov and not understanding anything. That feeling of disorientation, confusion and mystery touched me in a strange way: there was a world out there and cinema could be a peculiar way of reaching it.
Q: What is the importance for you of these multiple approaches to cinema that you have – from filmmaking to programming, to teaching?
A: They have become one single gesture in my life, a way of living or better, of making a living. I pay the rent with my teaching jobs, which allow me to do the films that I do, that I want to do. Programming is an extension of my cinephilia. It is about sharing, giving a screen to films, cultivating the movie-going experience and the reflection on cinema.
Q: In almost all your films, you are interested in the role of women, their lives and relationships. Why do you have this fascination?
A: There might be many answers to this question. It might have to do with the actress I have the chance of meeting and enjoying working together with. They are extraordinary. It could also have to do with the strong women that raised my brother, cousins and myself – my mother María del Carmen, my aunt Cruz and my grandmother Hortensia. And it also might be that women and their relationship with power and love attract me more than patriarchy.
Q: The cast of your films is almost all composed by the same actresses. Can you explain a little bit further your relationship with them and why do you like to work with them? In a way, you are ageing with the actors and seeing the world with them.
A: They are excellent, so why wouldn’t I want to work with them time after time? Also, I don’t feel that we exhaust our creative possibilities by doing things only once. The engagement becomes stronger. If I like the experience of working with someone, why stop? On the contrary, let’s continue so as to go further into our research. Plus, a stronger bond is built. It is not that easy to connect with someone else. So once that happens, you don’t want to let it go. A code in common is conformed, from which I can learn and move towards new horizons more effectively. Furthermore, it is an honour to be able to work with them again and again and learn each time. I enjoy watching them and living together film after film. Making a film is a good excuse to make us meet, especially now that I don’t live in Buenos Aires.
Q: Since Rosalinda, you’ve been adapting freely Shakespeare plays and his heroines. Can you explain more why you think these plays are still important for you and for contemporary times?
A: There is a challenge in choosing to work with this material, Shakespeare, theatre, the comedies… I came to them through reading. I am not educated in drama and theatre. I read the plays and was surprised by the comedies and by their heroines. They connected with the actors I work with. I enjoy that connection and the challenge of having these actors struggling, playing, bending these texts on camera. The actors enjoy it as well, I think. And so the camera and microphones may be able to capture something of this joy. On the other hand, it gives me plots, dialogues, actions from which I can start knitting my own films. It is a stimulant material. I enjoy translating it as well, bringing other sounds by translating it not to a Spanish from Spain but to a Spanish from el Río de la Plata. I also thought that the comedies were overshadowed by the tragedies, which are about men and power. It interested me to focus on the women, on love and intelligence.
Q: You have once spoken about the text as a physical presence, as something that can be filmed. What is the role of the text and, therefore, the word in your films?
A: The texts and their words are materials that cinema can do something with. I think that we can make them into a physical presence through actors but also as sound and images. In Hermia & Helena, I used texts in a literal way: I made words appear on the screen as part of the image. Also, texts become sound. I find that cinema can explore there. In Viola, the text becomes a trap where one character corners another one in a rehearsing loop. At first, words may seem not to have much to do with cinema, but if we think again we may find new possibilities for cinema. It is by making myself these questions of what can I do with words that the mise-en-scène and the scenes of the films come from.
Q: The basis for your stories is human relations, and almost all of them love relations. In your film world, love is a passage, that is, a liquid love, always transferring from person to person. Do you agree?
A: I think I go back to the idea of love and its dynamic and fugitive nature as a way of reminding myself that I am not in control, that things can be different from what I think and want, that the world is larger and vaster. It might have to do with my personal way of dealing with deception. It might be an obsession on my part, but basically a reminder that movement and change are our nature. But I can say that I am interested in the concept of the intermittencies of the heart.
Q: The process of living in this world is also manifested in your narrative structures: violent ellipsis, flashbacks, different protagonists and false futures. Your films are always between reality and alternative realities. Do you agree?
A: I agree. I enjoy cinema as a distorted mirror of reality, a transformative duplication. Cinema doesn’t need to only copy reality, but add options to what we think what the real is. In that sense let’s propose alternatives, let’s broaden the possibilities. I have sometimes referred to my films as alternative fictions, also in regard to the way the films tell their stories, always trying to find alternative paths to show what they need to show.
Q: Does the idea of repetition and rehearsal that we can find in your films and also between them – from Rosalinda to Viola, to the exercise of In the Museum and La Princesa de Francia – has to do with some search of something very real and out of fiction?
A: In repetition, we subvert reality or we produced a more complex one. Because things are not only one way but multiple and subjective. We produce doubles. We break the univocal way of understanding experiences. I find there, in exploring repetition, the power and joy of the artifice in cinema. And that artifice can expose something that we experience as real. Going into the films, I enjoy at some point that instead of seeing a character Rosalind in Rosalinda, we see that it is also an actress – María Villar – performing Rosalind. I find an interest in seeing the mask and the work involved around it.
Q: The city as a place for exploring human activity is very important. You even start most of your films with establishing and low-angle shots of the city. Why this is important to you? Mise-en-scène is a key to understanding your cinematic view?
A: I haven’t realized the repetition of the lower angle shots. Space is crucial for the way I want to show things. It helps to determine the shot and the characters. I know that it is not that we have a clear and sociological appreciation of space in my films, which tend to close-ups and medium shots with 50mm and 85mm lenses, but still, space is determining the shot. It is a more internalized appreciation of the same factor. Space sculpts the way the shots behave from the inside. There is only one place to put the camera. The angles and perspectives produce the choreography that displays on the shot. I like geometry and feel that the camera establishes with space a geometrical tension that the bodies of actors we explore and extend. I understand mise-en-scèneas the power for creating a form that means something, maybe something opaque or loud or emotional in time and space.
Q: Besides your films being screened at 2018 Porto/Post/Doc’s edition, you have also selected another film for this festival’s year. Can you explain to us a little bit of the reasons behind the choice, the relations between it and your own approach to the cinema?
A: I like giving a screen to films I have enjoyed and that I want to share. Especially for films that haven’t been shown as much as I think that they deserve. I have seen Il Monte delle Formiche in Locarno Film Festival two years ago. I was a jury then and I wasn’t able to give it the award that it deserved. It is a small film but a powerful one. It doesn’t show off its power, it just displays it. And it is generous in doing so. It does something that most contemporary films don’t do: it fulfils with what it promises itself to show. It is a cinema of evidence. There is a level of satisfaction in that rendering, in that simple but unique gesture that I admire deeply. It is an ant-film in a world of cinematic elephants. It is also a film about texts, about how to show texts in films. Plus, it is a dialogue with nature, a good tension between control and chance as in a rehearsal.