Many directors have worked with William Shakespeare plays over the years, but few have staked their careers on it like Matias Piñeiro. The Argentine filmmaker (now based in New York) has so far made three films that build original scenarios out of classic Shakespeare texts: “Viola,” “Rosalinda” and now “The Princess of France,” which is currently open in limited release. The film follows a young man named Victor who returns to Buenos Aires a year after his father’s death and reconnects with old friends for an internet radio production of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” As with the previous films, the text ultimately overtakes the movie, commenting on the contemporary circumstances in surprising and inventive ways. Indiewire asked Piñeiro, who’s already got another Shakespeare-inspired project in post-production, to share his favorite cinematic treatments of the famous Bard’s material.
“Chimes at Midnight”
This one is my favorite; Orson Welles’ Falstaff is an amazing character. The most inspiring Shakespeare adaptations are the Welles ones. With “Chimes at Midnight,” I was very much surprised how he treated the text. I did this exercise of watching the film with a book and crossing out what he was not using and it was very surprising how he’s a butcher. Most people wouldn’t think that. You might say,”Oh no, he’s respectful of Shakespeare,” or even that he’s the modern incarnation of Shakespeare, but he knows when to intervene. I was very much surprised and relieved by that — it can be done, we can touch this and still be very close to it.
Directed by Laurence Olivier
This film is amazing. I thought it was going to be great kind of theater and was absolutely mistaken. You realize how Laurence Olivier surpasses expectations. It’s beautiful for the way he puts it in context: It’s not an adaptation of the play, but he shows you the representation of the play. He explores how they felt at the time of Henry V, the climate. But first it shows you a performance of the play, which includes the Globe, and people watching it, and the behind-the-scenes; then, he builds to something weirder and weirder as then they go into a studio, and then it ends up with a battle in the fields of France. So it’s very strange: We begin in the theater and it takes us to a battle scene that looks like something from “Braveheart.”
“My Own Private Idaho”
Directed by Gus van Sant
I like how the film is as interested in following the text as following Welles’s film on the same plays and building its own personality out of the clashes with its contemporary world. It’s not afraid to face adaptation as a provocation that includes new worlds and words. It’s beautiful for its artifice, as I feel Shakespeare is.
“Kiss Me Kate”
Directed by George Sidney
It’s not an adaptation but a film that finds “The Taming of the Shrew” as a device for creating another plot, that is doubling or mirroring the original. I enjoy seeing actors playing actors, because their masks are exposed and so the joy comes from that outcome. It was the first film that I realized that didn’t stand as an adaptation but as a Shakespearean concept.
Directed by Gregori Kozintzev
A non-English Shakespeare treatment that provides an amazing example of how translation is great for language, that there are no national frontiers for Shakespeare and that theater can help cinema to find new and original forms. It moves unusually; nothing in it is natural; everything is composed.