Credit: Películas mirando el techo
by Daniel Gorman Featured Film

You Burn Me — Matías Piñeiro [Cinéma du Réel ’24 Review]

April 3, 2024

Matías Piñeiro is best known for loosely adapting Shakespearean texts via small-scaled, interpersonal dramas: Twelfth Night in Viola; Measure for Measure in Isabella; Love’s Labour’s Lost in The Princess of France; The Tempest in Sycorax. Of course, these are not straightforward adaptations, and Piñeiro uses these plays instead as loose frameworks to hang his own explorations of romance and drama on, allowing his creations to intermingle with and embody the texts in various ways. He’s an artist navigating a tricky territory between classicism and modernity, indebted as much to Rivette as to Shakespeare. You Burn Me is a fascinating creation, a fragmented, essayistic medium-length work that is, formally and conceptually, about its own making. By eschewing typical narrative and dramatic stakes and emphasizing the material aspects of writing and directing, the film proves simultaneously challenging in its experimentations and straightforward in its intentions.

Adapted from a chapter in Cesare Pavese’s Dialoghi con Leucò, titled “Sea Foam” (which details a meeting between the Greek poet Sappho and the nymph Britomartis), You Burn Me chronicles the process of translating this text into a script, and then into a film that might visualize this fanciful meeting. The film proper begins with a series of title cards intercut with recurring shots of a building and hands pressing buttons, each image repeated several times and blurring like a film frame getting stuck in a projector. Voiceover narration reads aloud from Pavese’s text, while close-up shots depict a hand underlining words and phrases from an annotated copy of the book. Actresses from other Piñeiro films make up the cast here — Gabi Saidón, María Villar, and Agustina Muñoz — although they are mostly heard via the soundtrack, or filmed from oblique angles and quickly cut away from. There are plenty of other digressions, as well; there is an abbreviated account of Sappho’s poetry, almost all of which was lost to time until an ancient manuscript was discovered (we see some documentary footage of the parchment on display). Some time is spent too on Pavese’s death: the author committed suicide, which is mirrored in the fates of Sappho and Britomartis, driven to the sea and banished for love.

This brief description indicates a linear quality that isn’t really there in the film; it’s more fragmented, as Piñeiro favors repetitions and short, decontextualized images that suggest more than they inform. The footage looks like 16mm film (or a remarkable digital facsimile) that morphs into something like a home video, full of jittery, handheld movements, unmotivated pans, close-ups of trees and plants, and many shots of rocky seashore cliffs and a calm, placid ocean. It’s all very handmade; the film’s credits are a series of typed or handwritten papers placed one by one in front of the camera, and occasionally a paintbrush will add dashes of color to a frame. At one point, we watch someone sketch out a small drawing that begins as simple linework but becomes denser as more images and finally watercolors are added to it. It’s a kind of synecdoche for the film itself, a sketch that becomes fuller and richer as incidental details are provided. Think of it as a lovely bricolage, various odds and ends that gradually coalesce into a treatise on love and regret, but also the act of adaptation itself. You Burn Me is a dense, occasionally opaque work, but one that’s also playful and full of life.

Published as part of Cinéma du Réel 2024.