Film Review: Viola

Movie about an all-female troupe rehearsing Twelfth Night is sunk by its uninvolving garrulousness.

In Buenos Aires, the members of an all-female troupe of Shakespearean actors rehearse a radically rethought version of the ravishingly diverting Twelfth Night, while pondering the play’s meaning as well as their own ultra-bohemian existences and romances. The lead character, Viola, happens here to be played by an actress with the same name (Maria Villar), which would seem to be more Pirandello than the Bard, but no matter. She has just replaced another actress in the role, and makes money on the side with her boyfriend selling bootleg DVDs.

Another title for Viola could have been A Bunch of Latina Chicks Sitting Around Talking, for that is what the main characters largely do, whether its running their lines or chewing the fat about their none-too-interesting lives. In the hands of writers like Anita Loos or Ingmar Bergman and directors like George Cukor, this might have been a lot of fun, and sensitively revealing to boot. But after a very extended opening excerpt from the play, the auteur in question here, Matías Piñeiro, follows the ladies into the dressing room for a lengthy shared discourse about their varying styles of romantic pursuit, and what should have a smart, delicious crackle merely lies flat on the screen. These young women simply are not that engaging—and more than a little on the smarty-pants side—and, while comely, seem very interchangeable. The movie never recovers from this enervating segment.

You wait in vain for something, anything, to happen and even gratefully snatch at the crumbs offered by Piñeiro showing Viola’s painstaking packaging of those DVDs with calligraphy inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. And whenever the movie seems about to take off into something more dramatic, the director inserts yet another static Twelfth Night rehearsal sequence. The fact that the lines are spoken in Spanish, requiring viewer reliance on subtitles, puts an extra strain on the audience, and the rather academic and passionless readings they are given is both a chore and a bore.

Piñeiro even misses the mark visually. Buenos Aires may be one of the most enchanting cities in the world, but from the way it’s photographed here, it looks like just another drab burg. With its endless, uninvolving chatter, this 63-minute movie feels like a small eternity.