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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) Petra - Review

Directed by Jaime Rosales, Petra is an inventive, highly disturbing movie that has echoes of Denis Villeneuve's Incendies, which is one of the best films in his rich filmography. Starring the incredible Bárbara Lennie, Petra follows an artist's quest to find out who her father is, on a search that leads her to the famous but ruthless artist Juame, who may or may not know more than he's letting on. The film feels incredibly daring and risk-taking, taking some darker subject matters that explore family secrets in a family where everyone has one.

Told in a non-linear narrative with multiple chapters, starting with Chapter II, Petra is an engima. The slow-burn pace that it has to offer may be an issue but that doesn't stop its reveals from being all the more shocking. It's a tragic drama with several moments that could have played out differently but didn't, and you're sitting there helpless to watch them take place. Petra is a master at keeping you in suspense in these moments, and Jamie Rosales knows how to work the camera to create that lingering sense of dread that you have over the entire film.

Joan Botey's Juame is one of the most cold-blooded and ruthless characters that I've seen on the big screen this year, putting the more mainstream blockbuster villains to shame. You actively fear every time he's on screen, and he creates a more than formidable adversary for the family. It's interesting to explore his relationship with his family and just how twisted it is. His son, Lucas - played by Àlex Brendemühl, has tried to leave multiple times, and he doesn't share the most loving of relationships with his mother. It's actively pointed out that the only way they can survive in the same house is that they keep apart.

The whole cast is great. Botey and Lennie are both exceptional in their roles, it's hard to imagine Botey playing another character after Juame, he sells it so well. And Lennie plays an awesome, flawed but memorable lead. Brendemühl excels especially when playing off against Lennie, and it's also worth mentioning the fantastic Marisa Paredes, who plays Maria, Lucas' mother who has secrets of her own. The more we find out about the family the more complex the mystery gets, which eventually builds to a harrowing, emotionally devastating climax.

What could have been a forced melodrama is averted thanks to the smart script, and the strong technical work which helps give this the feel of an arthouse film that Rosales is known for. Cinematographer Hélène Louvart (Beach Rats) is fantastic here, giving the film a beautiful look that makes every frame feel like a painting, from the open landscapes to the interiors of the main household where a portion of the film is set. Art is the main talking points on the film, and it's interesting to see how it's affected people's lives differently.

Haunting and unique, Petra left an impression on me. It's one of the best films to come out of the London Film Festival so far - and as of now, it's only being shown on two days during the Festival - Thursday 11 October and Friday 12 respectively. Tickets can be purchased here.

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