‘Petra’ Review: A Beautifully Shot Melodrama

A young woman named Petra (Bárbara Lennie) comes to a small Spanish town with a mysterious motive. Her life and many others in this small town seem to revolve around the artist Jaume (Joan Botey) who’s irresponsible actions threaten the lives of those around him.

Despite it’s title and a subtly brilliant performance by , the film isn’t much about Petra. She has little agency within the story and is often unaware of the forces at work around her. Instead the film is about the lives of people affected negatively by Jaume. He lies, he cheats and he baulks at any notion of personal responsibility. The twists and turns of the film’s drama are fairly contrived and more than a little melodramatic. There’s murder and suicide and paternity tests. There’s no real sense of nuance to the characters, especially not Jaume the moustache twirling villain of the piece.

This is at odds with how the film is shot. There’s a beautiful languid pace to the piece. The Spanish countryside is gorgeously photographed. The film repeatedly pans away from the human drama to gaze at nature through windows and doorways. It’s unclear what is meant by this. Perhaps nature cares not for the petty concerns of man and beast. There’s also some talk of art and authenticity but it’s hard to imagine who could relate to this bloody tale of scandal.

The film is split into chapters which are provided non-sequentially. This structure works very well, often offering the climax to a scenario before it is established. The effect is similar to Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible. The audience knows that time and circumstance will destroy to the happiness and hopes depicted.

Petra is an entertaining and beautifully shot drama with plenty of twists and turns to keep viewers interested. I didn’t feel much connection to the characters nor justification for it’s ample aesthetic ability.

Three Stars

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