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.
Miss silent movies? Some of you are too young to know what silent movies are, never mind appreciate them. Anyways The Artist is a throwback to the days of the silent movie and it does a top notch job of it.
It’s 1927 and the era of silent films. Georges Valentin is the king of the big screen. The premiere of his latest release A Russian Affair is applauded greatly. He is quite the charmer with his debonair looks and his mall dog Jack by his side. Zimmer, his boss at the Kinograph Studios, loves him. Clifton, his valet, considers him his best friend. Outside he’s signing autographs when a young wannabe named Peppy Miller accidentally falls into him after dropping her purse. The incident is an event for photographers and even leads her to the cover of Variety magazine with the title ‘Who’s That Girl?”
Peppy and Georges meet again as she auditions as a dancer for his latest movie. He insists on giving her a role and even gives her a fake beauty mark for a competitive edge in Hollywood. It works as her fame is soon rising. Meanwhile Georges has a nightmare one night where he’s in a world of sound and he’s the only one who can’t talk.
It’s 1929 and Zimmer announces that Kinograph will now be doing movies with sound, or ‘talkies’ from now on. Valentin is unhappy feeling talkies are a passing fad. He stubbornly makes and directs his own silent film with his own finances. Unfortunately it opens on the same day as Peppy’s latest talkie release. Before the release, she’s being interviewed in a restaurant where she proudly talks of herself as ‘fresh meat’ and ‘out with the old, in with the new’ until she comes face to face with Valentin. Peppy’s movie is a hit while Georges’ silent movie is a flop. Georges’ wife kicks him out of the house and he takes up an apartment with Clifton. Meanwhile Peppy is a major Hollywood star. Despite her stardom, she never loses her thoughts and concerns for Georges. She even attends the premiere of his silent film.
Things turn for the worse for Georges especially after the stock market crash where it gets to the point he auctions everything off and fires Clifton who he hasn’t paid for a year. One day in a drunken rage, he burns all the copies of his movies save one. He’s trapped in the fire and can’t get out until Jack the Dog is able to attract a policeman’s attention. He’s rescued and taken to a hospital where Peppy soon takes him to her house to recuperate.
Georges awakes not only to find himself in Peppy’s house but to learn Clifton now works for her. Peppy then pleads to Zimmer to get Valentin to star in her next film, even going as far as threatening to quit Kinograph if he doesn’t agree. Meanwhile Georges discovers all his auctioned-off items at Peppy’s house and then returns to his burned-out apartment. Peppy arrives at George’s apartment just as he’s about to commit suicide. It’s then when they reconcile and she persuades Georges let go of whatever pride is eating him and star in her next film. I won’t tell you how it ends exactly but it does end happily and on a surprise note.
It’s unique that it shows the swing from the silent world to the sound world as a personal trial of Georges Valentin. The world of silence made him a star, made him beloved and helped define him. When talkies came into play, silent movies went out of fashion and Valentin faded with them. Even despite his insistence of them being an art form, silent movies were not liked anymore. Valentin’s devotion to silence and his anger to his lost fame almost becomes like a source of pride for him as he even goes as far as neglecting the help given from those who act like ‘guardian angels’ to him: Jack, Clifton and Peppy. It’s only in the world of sound, a world Georges feared, that he’s able to recover.
Another thing this movie reminds us is that this world of disposable stars in Hollywood is nothing new. The movie does show a truth that a lot of stars popular during the era of silent films would lose their stardom during the start of talkies to a new era of stars. Does John Gilbert come to mind? And that line from Zimmer that: “The public wants fresh meat and the public is never wrong.” gives us a reminder of what Hollywood is about and always was about. Those who complain that Hollywood is not about the art of filmmaking and ‘all about the money’ are reminded in this film that it always was that way. Even while it has churned out some of the most classic and most beloved movies of all-time, it was still a profits-first system even during its Golden Age. The battle between ‘film as art’ and ‘film as entertainment’ still continues now.
Overall this was an excellent movie that is the brainchild of French director Michel Hazanavicius. He directs, writes and even edits the film. He also includes Jean DuJardin and Berenice Bejo who have worked with him in two of his past productions. Their performances on their own stand out as two of this year’s finest. Often one thinks that a lot of acting involves annunciation of words but a lot of acting is also done in silence too. In fact there’s even one completely mute performance–Holly Hunter in The Piano–that even won an Oscar. And we see the quality of the silent performances in this movie. Supporting performances from James Cromwell and John Goodman also add to the movie and stand well on their own. Also we have the dog Uggie as Jack the Dog who’s as much of a charmer as he is a scene stealer. The accompanying score from Ludovic Bource is also another top quality of the movie that adds to its highlights. The set design and costuming also work perfectly to set the time period. You’d hardly know this was made in 2011. Overall this is a well-organized film that’s as entertaining as it is artistically merited.
The Artist is a very charming throwback to the silent movie age. It retains the charm of silent movies and the era while maintaining an intriguing story and top notch acting. The big question is will its silence be golden on Oscar night? It’s heavily favored. We’ll just wait and see.