Credit: Berlinale
by Lawrence Garcia Featured Film Spotlight

Isabella | Matías Piñeiro

August 25, 2021

Isabella is another bold effort from Piñeiro, and a indication of the direction his particular art is headed.

Isabella, the latest feature from Argentine writer-director Matías Piñeiro, might be described as an extended exercise in framing. Indeed, it actually opens with an image of four concentric frames of different sizes, each bearing a different shade of color. This set-up, it turns out, is part of a theater production written by Mariel (María Villar), an aspiring actress who finds her own thespian ambitions — particularly the lead role of Isabella in a local production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — thwarted by Luciana (Agustina Muñoz), a more successful performer who also happens to be dating her estranged brother.

To even summarize Isabella’s story, though, is to mislead potential viewers, as the film proceeds in a discombobulating, breathless flurry of achronological scenes that move between rehearsals, performances, and chance encounters; from busy urban intersections in Buenos Aires to verdant provincial landscapes. As in Piñeiro’s previous feature, Hermia and Helena, Shakespeare doesn’t serve as a strict model so much as a starting point for this director’s raconteurish explorations. An image of Mariel laying out and rearranging a grid of differently-colored paper squares practically serves as a statement of intent, underlining the way Piñeiro uses structure and tonal contrast to alter the expected emotional charge of any given story beat. (This formal conceit obliquely recalls Hill of Freedom, which the Argentine director has singled out as his favorite of Hong Sang-soo’s films.) In this way, Piñeiro highlights the formal boundaries of his own film, thereby establishing it as a field of narrative play in the manner of his previous work. But if Isabella ultimately feels less like a culmination than a dead end, that’s something that Piñeiro himself seems to have recognized. The film’s final scene sees Mariel relinquishing her doubts and stepping into a new phase of her career, and one is left with the impression that the 37-year-old director might end up doing the same.

Originally published as part of Berlin International Film Festival 2020 | Dispatch 3.