Matías Piñeiro’s Princess of France played at the 52nd New York Film Festival on Sunday and Monday. Cinema Guild will release the film theatrically.
Princess Of France kicks off with a long, dazzlingly choreographed single take of a nocturnal soccer game, as graphic an illustration of the moment’s particulate matter as it is a foreshadowing of the movie’s borderline-oppressive formalism. (That the scrimmage is itself a prelude to the first dialogue scene—a rehearsal for a Shakespeare play—speaks to the cake-like layering of arts appreciation that director Matías Piñeiro not just enjoys, but also demands of his audience.) The cast is a gaggle of friends in Buenos Aires, all somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, bound less by their love of The Bard than by their participation in a radio version of Love’s Labor Lost directed by a kid named Victor (Julián Larquier Tellarini). If unassuming to the eye, he’s soon revealed as something of a hustler, equally charismatic and deadpan, and his ability to coax everybody onto joining his production is undernourished by the screenplay. After swearing off sleeping with his actresses, Victor hears his girlfriend Paula (Agustina Muñoz) cheated on him while studying abroad; he sets about his revenge, initiated in the form of a hookup with cast member Ana (María Villar).
Under the guise of bringing new actresses aboard, Victor’s further romantic offers are clandestinely tendered and/or accepted—and this is how the film punches huge holes in cinema’s assumed linearity. Pivotal exchanges between characters will repeat themselves, only to play out out contrary to the version we have seen and internalized before, as if Victor (or rather, Piñeiro) is compulsively unable to stop himself from keeping all options open. With its gloriously claustrophobic closeups and uncanny orchestration of takes, the film owes a debt to both Buñuel and Ophüls in its multiplication of a given entanglement’s potential outcomes. But for all the world-wisdom of Princess Of France, it still struck me as little more than a rigorously executed showcase for some fancy conceptual footwork, an obsessive-compulsive return to the ingenuity of construction that made Piñeiro’s Viola such a pleasure to watch. Cinema is lucky to have him, which is another way of saying: love the player, hate (watching) the game.