Sunday 5 May 2019

Spanish Film Festival (7) - Barrie Pattison recommends PETRA (Jaime Rosales)

Jaime Rosales’ Petra is a film which keeps on recalling the sixties, not just in having its (out of order) episodes preceded by numbered captions in the Godard manner.  The camera again wanders through the action sometimes filling the screen with the vacant space between the performers.  Its slow pace would have confined it to the Robert Bresson audience.

Well that was then and this is now. This one has a very different preoccupation and mood. 

On an artist’s residency, rising star Bárbara Lennie from the Farhadi Todos lo saben / Everybody Knows and El Reino / The Realm turns up at the Catalan farmland studio of a famous sculptor. Everybody warns her against him (“nothing good can come from Jaume”) and she gets to know the man’s wife Marisa Paredes (Almodovar movies & The Devil’s Backbone) and their son, Rosales’ regular leading man Alex Brendemühl.

When Jaume the master (Joan Botey making his screen debut at seventy-seven) arrives, the people get to dominate the detailed rural setting. 

Botey makes it with the house keeper who wants him to give her son a job (“a favor for a favor”) though that doesn’t work out. Lennie has an agenda of her own. It doesn’t fit with Brendemühl coming on to her. It's a film about la veridad which pivots on lies. Finally, Botey rails against “this false happiness you’ve created” and the shot guns are broken out. 

The whole thing is of a piece. After we’ve seen him assembling large metal constructions in his studio, Botey tells his protegé that the good thing about art is the money and he criticizes Lennie’s self-portraits as being too “intimist” - ignoring the wider public for her own satisfaction (not bothering to tell her the paint dribbles were distracting). 

Rosales’ film derives its suspense from pondering whether the outcome will be determined by the severe expectations of the art movie or if we’re in for more Latino melodrama. Fencing his bets, he has made another piece where the women have all the strength and the men crumble. 

With flourish free, high contrast location filming and a strong cast, the mix is a better night at the movies than it sounds.

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