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NYFF 2020: Isabella and Fauna

Unusual fantasies from Matias Pineiro and Nicolas Pereda.

At first, Matías Piñeiro’s Isabella is demurely pleasant, in that skipping-rocks sort of way— an inconsequential walk through a garden you remember only in passing. Insouciance and intratextural references to Shakespeare still abound, were two actresses, one aspiring, the other established, vie for the role of Isabella in a stage version of “Measure of A Man”. One becomes subsumed by the role the other daydreams about it (Agustina Muñoz and Maria Villar, previous Piñeiro players). But soon I unexpectedly felt the subtle and curious pull of their rivalry— the jealousy is delicately hemmed, fine but fast like a spider web, and unmissable. Both women eventually relinquish the mantle of theater and collaborate instead on an art installation that prioritizes the color purple. Ranging from soft aubergine to periwinkle, offset under diffused lighting, they are all calming enough to dispel any lingering confusion.

Isabella finds natural kinship with Fauna from Mexican director Nicolas Pereda. Friends with Piniero, he also makes elliptical films seen little beyond the festival circuit. These contemplative puzzle boxes pack the minimum amount of plot necessary for perplexment. The central characters, Francisco (Francisco Guerrera) and Luisa (Luisa Pardo) are actors on the way to meet her family for the first time. opening with the couple in the car peeved by navigatory difficulties, the film seems like it will focus on their romantic travails. But quickly it takes another turn; Pereda skirts trouble-in-paradise drama and whisks the film into the ethereal. When Luisa picks up a book her brother (Gabino Rodriguez) is reading, that story animates the second half of the film. The same actors play these new characters while wearing wigs. The story-within-a-story culminates, maybe, in violence that is only hinted at and takes place off screen. The director considers this film to be a wry commentary on the prevalencen of cartel as culture in Mexico’s with shows like Narcos (in which Francisco as a character and actor actually star), but you’d be forgiven for missing the point in this wondrous unassuming film that proves itself a mesmerizing multi-faceted diddy. The skeleton key that unlocks these themes arrives in an early scene that also cements the films sense of humor. Luisa’s father asks her boyfriend to act on cue and perform a scene from the show— and then again, and again. His deadpan request signals a curious tv show obsession, but perhaps also affirms his superior trolling.

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