Interesting how a lot of films I’ve seen at the VIFF are to do about deep dark secrets being exposed. Petra is one of those films that exposes some dark secrets.
The film is seven chapters starting with the second chapter. Petra is a young budding artist. She is arriving at the estate of a well-known artist named Jaume. Over at the place, we sense an unhappy vibe. The house consists of wife Marisa, son Lucas, housekeeper Teresa, her husband Juanjo and their son Pau. She is seeking artistic guidance from Jaume, but gets nothing but insults from her. That leads her disheartened with her own work. Jaume is actually a tyrant to everyone he works with. Lucas talks with Petra of a dark ‘confession’ and tries to advance to her, but she rejects.
In the third chapter, Jaume had just finished having sex with Teresa. He criticizes her for not enjoying the non-consentual sex and threatens to tell Pau. Teresa later commits suicide. At the funeral Lucas looks at his father with contempt. Moving to the first chapter, Petra’s mother is dying. She tells of an artist she loved. However she does not reveal it to be Jaume. She doesn’t want Petra to have Jaume in her life. In the fourth chapter, Petra confronts Jaume with reason to believe he is her father. She tells him of a letter her mother wrote years ago. Marisa later admits there has been infidelity in both their lives. Throughout their marriage, they both have had their share of various lovers.
In the sixth chapter, Jaume does admit to Petra that he is her father. Right as Petra is pregnant. He also tells that truth to Lucas. Lucas is infuriated. He tries to shoot Jaume but Jaume reminds him he doesn’t have what it takes. Instead Lucas shoots himself. In the fifth chapter, we learn that Petra and Lucas have become more than just friends. They even get romantic. In the seventh chapter, the people try to deal with their lives after the death of Lucas. Marisa confesses to Petra that Lucas is not Jaume’s son, but the son of an extramarital affair she had. Petra is infuriated and tells Marisa never to see her again. Jaume is seen conversing with Pau. Then as Jaume walks away, Pau shoots him dead. The film ends with Petra looking after her daughter and Marisa showing up as a meeting of goodwill. The film ends with them conversing together in a friendly manner.
The film is definitely one in which goes from something simple to being a film where dark truths are exposed. At first you think Petra is there to see Jaume to learn how to be a better artist. That would appear to be the case. However then it becomes clear that Petra is soon after a truth. A truth that could not just destroy Jaume, but those around him too. In time, a truth about Marisa is also exposed. Dark secrets come to the forefront and a lot of lives are destroyed because of it. You sometimes think there’s no way the film would end with anyone at peace, but somehow it does.
The unique thing about Petra is not just telling the story, but doing it in a non-chronological order . This may be a film of seven acts, but it begins with act two, continues with act three, but then leads into act one. There’s also the shift from act four to act six, and then leading back to act five. That shifting around of the acts works because the film presents itself in situations that has the viewer asking why the situation? Why the friction? It’s when it goes back to the recent past that we get the answers why. This playing around in time, just like it’s done in Pulp Fiction, works for telling the film’s story.
Also it’s unique how this film takes place in the world of art. I know I’ve seen a lot in terms of the freeness or even the foolishness of the way actors live out their love lives. It’s interesting seeing this about an adulterous artist whose wife is just as adulterous. It often leaves you wondering if they lived a strained marriage where they decided to stay together for the sake of Lucas? Or were they an open marriage? There are a lot of open marriages in the world of arts and entertainment. It makes you wonder.
Whatever the situation, the film sometimes seems it’s as much about Jaume as it is about Petra. Petra is a woman searching for the truth and relating to the people she meets along the way. However the film shows just how much of a monster Jaume is. I know that arrogance is common among artists and even berating behavior, but Jaume appears to be a person with no conscience. He berates the artists he works with and Petra’s work, he berates Lucas for being unable to break away from him, he lures his housekeeper in sexual temptation, and even appears at the end as if he doesn’t care about Lucas’ death. It’s no wonder after Jaume is shot to death, Petra and Marisa appear to be at peace as they meet. I think that was it about the film. Jaume was the tyrant in people’s lives and Petra would be that missing link that would free others.
This is the latest film from Spanish arthouse director Jaime Rosales. Rosales has developed a reputation over the years starting with his 2003 short film The Hours Of The Day which won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes, his 2007 feature Solitary Fragments which received a lot of critical renown, and 2014’s Beautiful Youth which was nominated for Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Here he directs a story he co-wrote with Michel Gatzambide and Clara Roquet. He places it in an artistic setting with a mostly quiet environment, but that doesn’t take away the intensity of the friction. Instead the quiet slow nature makes you feel the friction. Barbara Lennie does a very good job of playing the lead protagonist, but it’s Joan Botey playing the tyrant Jaume that steals the show. Both do an excellent job of managing their roles well.
Petra is a film that tells a story in a varying chronological order. However it does so to get us to the heart of the story in a surprising way.
I’ll admit I was late in reviving my interest in the movies with Oscar buzz. Room was even at the VIFF and I ignored it thanks to not hitting the website AwardsDaily. However Room was out in November and I finally had my chance.
The film begins with Jack waking up in a room. The room is small and crowded with a television, small kitchen, beds, bathtub and a toilet. There are no windows but there is a skylight in the ceiling. The only other person who lives in this room is a young woman named Joy, his mother. Soon we learn the two are abduction victims held captive in a shed full of escape alarms by a man she calls Old Nick. We also learn that Joy has protected Jack from knowing the truth of the situation and tried to create a world of childhood wonder for him. She even gets him to hide from Old Nick fearing Nick will sexually assault Jack the way she’s been.
Joy has been calm about her abduction situation mostly as Old Nick has kept them both fed well and sheltered well despite his obvious sexual assault on Joy of which Jack was born from. However food, clothing and shelter supplies have been scarcer since Old Nick has been kept out of a job for six months. Joy has attempted to escape before but it failed. This time, she uses Jack where she gets him to fake having a fever. It doesn’t work. The next day she gets Jack to play dead in a rolled-up carpet and to run out of the back of Nick’s truck when he gets to a stop sign en route to ‘burying’ him somewhere. The plan works as Jack is able to get out in a residential area. Jack is rescued but police would have to pursue Old Nick back at the shed where he has Joy hostage temporarily. The two are soon reunited in freedom from Old Nick.
Once free, Jack and Joy are given medical treatment where Joy is reunited with her mother Nancy, stepfather Leo and father Robert. Jack is thanked by Nancy for taking care of Joy.
As the two are starting to embrace their new freedom from captivity, they realize that they are not completely free. There’s the general public that are so dazzled by the story, the media turns this into a circus. There is Joy dealing with her divorced parents and the fact Robert doesn’t want to accept Jack. There’s even Joy returning to her room and unpleasant reminders of her fun carefree life before the abduction. While Jack is embracing his grandmother and stepgrandfather, his new freedom and the whole new world for him that comes with it, Joy can’t handle her situation and she attempts suicide. Jack sends her a piece of his hair in hopes she gets better. Eventually Joy does recover and thanks Jack for giving her reason to live. However there’s one last thing to do.
This is a film based on a novel by a novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue released five years ago. Filmmakers hired Emma to write the script for the film. Normally a situation like an abduction of a minor and a child coming from the abduction would make for something unwatchable. I wouldn’t blame any of you for feeling that way. What makes it watchable is that it’s mostly seen from the child’s point of view. Throughout the film we see the world through the eyes of Jack. Him and his sense of wonder at the small world around him as well as his hope for entering the world outside keeps this film from feeling the tense situation around it. I will say that most people would find the child’s sense of awe and wonder in the middle of an abduction would find it bizarre but it’s a creative twist that actually helps the story.
However the film is not without reminders of realities. First is the father who doesn’t want to look at Jack. While Joy sees Jack as his child and Nancy willfully accepts Jack as her grandson, grandfather Robert doesn’t want to accept him. Possibly because he may see Jack as a product of his daughter’s abduction and rape and would naturally be upset by it. Second is the media attention. No doubt the freedom achieved by Jack and Joy is a remarkable story but the media attention that came with it was too much, especially since Joy would just want to get back to her life again. Also just as Joy is getting use to life back at home, she’s reminded of her life before the abduction and of so many things that were cut short because of it.
The highlight of the film is actually the bond between Joy and Jack. No doubt Joy is a victim of her abduction. Her son Jack is where she’s able to forget her problem temporarily and feels like a mother instead of a victim. Plus she loves him back. She could have seen him as a product of her rape and neglected him but instead chooses to be a mother. Seeing her make a birthday cake for him and protect Jack from Old Nick shows how much she means to him. Even after they’re free, they still have a bond: a bond that gives Joy a reason to live after her suicide attempt.
The film I’ll admit is even a reminder of how both children and adults see situations differently. Joy sees the shed as her prison but Jack doesn’t. Joy is doing what she can to keep Jack from seeing this as a traumatizing time for the both of them and creates for him a world of joy, creativity and wonder for Jack. That’s why Jack feels an attachment to the shed to the point he even calls it ‘Room.’ Even the time in freedom is seen in different ways. Jack sees it as a time for new worlds and new explorations. Joy is supposed to see it as her time of the freedom she thought she’d never achieve but there are a lot of things that bother her like a father who doesn’t want to accept Jack and a future that was robbed from her. Even that scene at the end as the two see ‘Room’ one last time shows the difference in how the two feel. Jack willfully says goodbye to it–now a place of the police’s crime scene as is should be– but you can still see the trauma in Joy’s face. However seeing how Joy willfully says goodbye to it upon Jack’s request reminded me that if us adults handled their problems they way children like that do, we’d have much less trauma in our lives.
I will admit that I knew the film was shot in Vancouver. Whenever I see a film that was made in Vancouver, I try to identify the sites and sets in the film with areas of Vancouver I know well. I was able to do so. Even though the film is set in Ohio, it couldn’t fool me!
This film is the North American breakthrough for Irish director Lenny Abrahamson. His direction along with Donoghue’s screenplay adaptation of her own novel is the right mix and delivers a great story. I will admit the story of Room begins on an awkward note as we don’t fully understand the situation. The abduction and Joy’s impregnation of Jack from Old Nick becomes more obvious later on. I feel the two together made the right choices.
Brie Larson was the right pick for Joy. She displayed the right mix of compassion, trauma and frustration. It’s not easy to play a character who’s first a victim of abduction and rape and later adjusting to her freedom but she succeeded in playing Joy Newsome excellently. Just as excellent is Vancouver actor Jacob Tremblay. He was the right fit to play Jack with his naivety, his sense of wonder and his undying love for his mother. Joan Allen, William H. Macy and Tom McCamus were all good as the grandparents. Sean Bridgers was rather limited in his role of Old Nick. Mind you Old Nick wasn’t too be that big of a role anyways.
Room has to be the best film coming out of Vancouver this year. It’s a very unique story that makes what would normally be an unwatchable and even taboo situation very watchable. Even enlightening.