FICG ’19: A promising set-up turns convoluted in Jaime Rosales’ “Petra”

The search for one’s origin can be unyielding. A quest for belonging, for understanding of who we are and why we exist. It could be difficult for people who have never questioned where they came from to grasp how profound doubt is present in the everyday life of someone that’s missing a key piece of their identity. Bloodline is the thematic element that ties multiple parts in Jaime Rosales’ Petra.

Petra, played by a marvelous Bárbara Lennie, arrives at a country house one morning, her intentions unclear. She announces her plans to stay for awhile, and is promptly introduced to some of the subjects that will play a large part in the story. It doesn’t take long for Lucas, played by the always charming Àlex Brendemühl, to take notice of the woman. They swiftly develop a connection propelled by their ease of conversation. Be it sharing anecdotes or personal troubles, mutual trust persists at every second.

Our first clue to the looming mystery appears when, after a sweet exchange where Lucas jokes about being a serial killer. Petra plays along, and he attempts to kiss her but he is hastily rejected with a brief, “This can’t be,” given as an explanation. This comes as a shock as we havespent most of the runtime watching what we thought was a blossoming relationship, only to be left questioning her reaction.

Avoiding quick resolutions, the duo takes a backseat as the patriarch Jaume, an exaggerated villain in the vein of Disney’s worsts is introduced, wreaking havoc on everyone around him. Although he brings misery to our main characters throughout the film, his most vile action happens during this chapter. It’s made clear that remorse is an alien concept to him, and humiliating others is his own wicked manner of getting off. His characterization borders on caricature, and hints at the major problems with the narrative, as director Jaime Rosales seems to only be capable of dealing in absolutes.

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The film’s non-linear structure shows itself for the first time as we go back in time to when Petra is taking care of her chronically ill mother. The fear of her passing away without revealing the name of her father lingers through this segment as she refuses to disclose the information believing it’s the best for her daughter despite how much it might hurt Petra to be in the blind. Their relationship is tender, if a little detached, worn out from years of silence. Once her mother dies, Petra begins her pursuit of answers about her descent, embarking on a journey to the countryside where she believes her father lives.

Now, this could turn into a thrilling drama about family secrets, but it’s evident early on that suspense is not what Rosales is trying to achieve. Each section is preceded by a spoiler-filled title, and the scene that immediately follows serves almost exclusively as a visual representation of the knowledge we’ve just been given. This is a bold move, and one that I’d approve of if the actions that proceed weren’t increasingly ridiculous until they’re veritably laughable. Jaume lying to Petra about not being his father is somehow not the wildest revelation, as with a third act to spare, Rosales manages to reach soap opera levels of intrigue. The timelines grow jumbled and hard to keep track of, the order of events becoming ambiguous, the pain caused by Jaume hanging as the sole constant.

It can be argued that even the director lost track of his own threads, owing to the completely out-of-left-field culmination that disregards one of the character’s already-established arc in service of an uncomplicated conclusion. For a movie permeated with pointless twists, having such an unremarkable end note just appends to its numerous problems.

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