Two different Violas inhabit the Argentine romantic comedy Viola, one of them considerably more interesting than the other. The audience is first introduced to the members of an all-female theater company performing a modified version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, one of whom (Elisa Carricajo) has just decided to break up with her boyfriend. Backstage, the women argue good-naturedly about the pros and cons of constancy; after Carricajo leaves, the most ardent of the group (Agustina Muñoz) decides to test her friend’s resolve, along with various theories about romance, by presenting her with a smitten alternative—namely, herself. A virtuoso rehearsal sequence follows, in which Muñoz, playing Viola (who’s disguised as a man), gradually seduces Carricajo, playing Olivia, as they go over lines from Act I, Scene V. Director Matías Piñeiro shoots this remarkable pas de deux in long, fluid takes, constantly repositioning the women’s bodies in the frame as Muñoz/Viola closes in on the increasingly flummoxed Carricajo/Olivia. Not a single non-Shakespearean word is spoken, but it’s amazing what can be achieved by circling back repeatedly to The Bard’s most romantic verse and delivering it more intensely each time.
That intensity is precisely what’s missing from the remainder of the film, which all but abandons Carricajo and the enticing, multilayered story it’s begun. Instead, Piñeiro shifts focus to a new character, actually named Viola (María Villar), who runs a pirated-media service with her boyfriend. (They download stuff for people who are too lazy or tech-challenged to do it themselves, apparently. Exactly why this service would be necessary isn’t clear.) Carricajo’s soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend happens to be one of Villar’s clients, so Villar ends up waiting outside his apartment to get paid, along with Muñoz, who shows up for reasons of her own that are never clarified. There’s more girl talk about the nature of romantic relationships, in what may or may not be a dream sequence (the weather changes dramatically without explanation), and then Villar heads home to conduct a modest experiment in which she doesn’t greet her boyfriend immediately with a kiss as she usually would. Also, they record some lo-fi music together.
And that’s it, basically. Viola is only a little over an hour long, and while its concerns superficially mirror those of the French New Wave—Rohmer’s teasing philosophical inquiries, Rivette’s conflation of cinema and theater—Piñeiro seems content to merely float a few intriguing ideas rather than diligently follow through on any aspect in particular. It’s a pleasant, negligible wisp of a movie, notable mostly for what it suggests of its director’s potential. Piñeiro’s earlier short film, Rosalinda, reportedly riffs on As You Like It, and from the evidence here, he could make a superb meditation on contrasting modes of performance if he put his mind to it. At the moment, like Twelfth Night’s Duke Orsino, he’s a little too reserved for his own good.