Jaime Rosales’ Petra revolves around the titular figure (Bárbara Lennie) who lands a residency with famous modern artist Jaume (Joan Botey). She immediately meets Jaume’s cold wife Marisa (Marisa Paredes), who confidently informs her that she would be hard pressed to find artistic inspiration from Jaume. Petra develops a friendship with Lucas (Alex Brendemühl), their photographer son who still lives on their estate and, although there’s a spark between them, Petra refuses to pursue it.
After Jaume takes advantage of the maid and causes her to commit suicide, Lucas leaves. Petra finally reveals why she infiltrated Jaume’s life: to ask whether he is her father, to which Jaume refutes with no hard evidence. Nonetheless, Petra believes him and is free to pursue Lucas; they fall in love, birth a child and seem happy in their beautiful house in the countryside. However, in a story with twists and turns akin to a Greek tragedy, Petra’s problems do not stop there and her wish for a nuclear family falls apart steadily.
The story itself is intriguing, looking at a fragmented family that values individual secrets rather than communication; even Petra’s mother, prior to her death, doesn’t disclose who her father is and refuses to talk about it. However, no secret goes unpunished and every character harbours their share of misery as a result. Even through the misery, the characters do not express uncontrolled emotion and, if anything, Rosales chooses to nip tension between them in the bud just before explosion; it feels like being in the passenger seat of a car that goes 70mph only to emergency stop every few minutes. But while that might induce nervous laughter and a mild shot of excitement at first, it quickly dies off and becomes quite frustrating.
The detached storytelling is also mirrored in the panning camera, which often moves away from talking characters to focus on the world around them. At first, it might be a reflection on the confidence of the filmmaker, but the stylish camerawork loses its shine and becomes more of a distraction from the story than a tool which helps move it along. The choice to put spoilers in chapter headings, such as informing the audience that certain characters have died or lied, is a strange decision as it gives you a quick summary before anything is able to unfold rather than fill in blanks. But folks, there’s no blanks.
The film travels at a steady pace that seems to build to something bigger, but it just doesn’t. Not because there’s nothing dramatic in the story, it’s a family reunion from hell, full of drama. It is Bresson-esque in how the characters act, which seems to be the director’s intention, but for what reason I’m not too sure. Forgive and forget, perhaps? I already have.
- Xiao Tang
Watch the trailer here: