• A few of Piñeiro’s mysterious women

On Sunday at 7 PM Doc Films will present the Chicago premiere of the 2012 Argentinian film Viola as part of their superb series of recent Central and South American cinema. It’s a curious film, starting out as a breezy, dialogue-driven comedy before growing increasingly mysterious and ending up in the realm of paranoid fantasy. Writer-director Matias Piñeiro (who’s made six movies since 2006) handles these shifts in tone so subtly that you might not recognize them until after they’ve occurred. The unrushed vibe is especially impressive considering the movie is only an hour long. “Piñeiro arrives here with what seems to be a fully developed style and distinct set of interests,” J. Hoberman wrote last summer on the occasion of the first New York retrospective of his work. “Set in a vague urban bohemian milieu, [his films] evoke Jacques Rivette or early Raul Ruiz in their elaborate, literary conspiracy games and Eric Rohmer in their fondness for talkative young people.”

Viola, which moves between rehearsals for a low-budget production of Twelfth Night and scenes from the lives of some actresses therein, recalls Rivette’s Out 1 and The Gang of Four, hinting at parallels between the drama and the drama-within-the-drama but never confirming what they are. Hoberman, who called the movie Piñeiro’s most accomplished to date, described it thusly:

Viola consists almost entirely of two-shot close-ups, filmed with a mobile camera but edited without establishing or transitional shots, effectively blending rehearsals, riffs, performances, dressing room discussions of various relationships, and off-stage encounters. . . . Further ambiguity is provided by the introduction of a character, not in the play, who is invited to replace one of the actresses in Twelfth Night, and who contributes to the pervasive theme of copying and doubling by acting as a courier for her boyfriend in the business of duping and distributing bootleg DVDs—at least that’s what it seems like to me.

Sunday’s screening will be preceded by a film adaptation of Twelfth Night from 1910, which condenses Shakespeare’s five-act comedy into a brisk 12 minutes. It’s a smart programming decision, as the short provides a useful refresher on the play’s structure and themes and gives viewers a clearer idea of what Piñeiro’s toying with in Viola.