A young woman takes on an artist residency in the Spanish countryside with a renowned yet notoriously difficult sculptor. Hidden agendas, deceit, secrecy and manipulation come to a head in waves, and although death and ruin seem to be the order of the day, the story ends in a rather pleasant resolution. Petra has many strong moments that are overshadowed by a plot which takes far too many twists to remain effective. By the film’s conclusion, the agreeable final moment feels more like an easy cop-out than an actual meaningful solution.
Poor, poor Petra. Played by Bárbara Lennie, the protagonist and her loved ones spend the duration of the feature being jerked around on the emotional roller coaster of ageing artist Jaume (Joan Botey) and his sadistic take on the world. With his incredibly warped sense of morality – amplified by an even more perverse sense of dramatic timing – the character manages to manipulate everyone around him to the point of destruction. This disturbing penchant of his initially imbues a meandering narrative with several much-needed bursts of conflict, but ultimately the emotional spikes become too tiresome to keep up with.
The story, like the wandering camera pans, is fed to us at a rambling pace. The opening dispute, a question of paternity, comes relatively out of the blue and quite late into the film. After being assured he’s not her father, Petra begins a relationship with Jaume’s gentle-souled son Lucas (Alex Brendemühl) and it appears that after escaping the oppressive home of Jaume and his wife Marisa (Marisa Paredes) everything might end happily ever after. Of course, that is not the case and both characters resurface at separate times to ruin Petra and Lucas’s lives not once but twice.
It’s intriguing enough to watch Jaume torture the people around him, but one has to wonder how to make sense of all of it when he has absolutely no redeeming qualities, no humanity. Everyone seems resigned to be dancing puppets on his stage, having no agency over their own lives. When Marisa is also outed as a deceitful woman with loose morals, one questions why this story of unimaginable pain and abuse ends in forgiveness.
Director Jaime Rosales seems to get too caught up in the battle of truth versus lies; he takes us to the edge so many times that we lose the element of surprise when we finally hit the climactic moment. For a film with such fascinating and strong characters to play with, it’s a pity that they are tossed around in a plot that outdoes itself to a groan-worthy point.
Petra does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Petra here: