I went to see a new Argentine movie and a 1990s Whit Stillman movie broke out.
I’m not complaining at all. Writer-director Matias Pineiro’s charming romantic comedy “Hermia & Helena” adds a playful and cosmopolitan spin on the sort of movies Stillman is known for (“Metropolitan,” “The Last Days of Disco”), about smart twentysomethings for whom art and love are equally important.
The film has its Madison premiere at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art Spotlight Cinema series, 227 State St. Tickets are free for members and $7 for all others.
“Hermia & Helena” doesn’t have any characters named Hermia or Helena — but William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” does, a key literary allusion. In fact, Pineiro’s globe-trotting, time-jumping story is inspired by “Midsummer,” although you don’t need to know anything about the play to enjoy the movie.
Fittingly for a Shakespeare pastiche, the movie opens with a woman on a balcony, Carmen (Maria Villar) talking on her cellphone to her boyfriend Lukas (Keith Poulson) who is walking the streets below. Carmen is a Buenos Aires native in New York on a fellowship, and Lukas is her American boyfriend.
But they’re not the central couple of the film. Carmen goes back home and encourages her friend Camila (Agustina Minoz), who’s about to leave for New York on the same fellowship, to look up Lukas when she goes. She does, and they fall for each other.
But Camila also has an old boyfriend in town (filmmaker Dustin Guy Defa, who was just at the Wisconsin Film Festival in April with his similarly sweet comedy “Person to Person”). They also rekindle their relationship. And then Camila takes a trip to upstate New York, for reasons that I won’t reveal, and it turns out she has a whole different agenda involving old family secrets.
Pineiro balances all the characters, locations and storylines of the film with a cheerful charm, jumping from continent to continent and back and forth in time. At times, we see onscreen text of Camila’s fellowship project (a Spanish translation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” naturally). At other moments, Pineiro’s camera stops to drink in a particularly beautiful shot, like the light coming down between the gaps in a steel bridge.
At 86 minutes, “Hermia & Helena” keeps a breezy pace, and Minoz is appealing as the enigmatic heroine Camila. Not all the lovers get who or what they want, but all seem in good spirits. “Life is disappointing,” one character says at the end of the movie. But she says it with a smile.