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And Then There Were Two

Petit-mal-film-review-ana-maría-otálora-silvia-varón
Sara Larrota

MOVIE REVIEW
Petit Mal (2022)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a group of people living in a so-called alternative arrangement, must never shut up about it. Most of them don’t make movies screened as part of the Tribeca Festival about themselves set in their own home, which is generally a big loss; there’s little more enjoyable than being nosy and/or judgmental about how other people live. The bourgeois bohemians of “Petit Mal” are a trio of Colombian lesbians who live in a huge rural house and are pretty pleased with themselves. This is not necessarily a complaint. Laia (Ruth Caudeli, the writer-director) is a movie director; Martina (Silvia Varón) is a film editor who works at home; Anto (Ana María Otálora) does the dishes. They all sleep in a big bed in a big bedroom in matching teddy-bear onesies. When all three of them are together the rest of the world vanishes into nothing. But right from the start there’s a burbling concern that paradise was only built for two.

This is a minor hook for a movie, but as it was fairly obviously made under Covid restrictions allowances can be made; it’s hard to imagine that the women’s world would be so self-contained otherwise. But no friends are shown, other than the many dogs which are usually underfoot; no families are mentioned; neither is money, or what Anto does for a living; there are no trips to the grocery store or even out for a walk. It’s hard to know whether they are in the gorgeous house because they’ve been exiled, or because they’ve exiled themselves. Laia gets a job on a film in Europe, necessitating an absence of several months; and Anto and Martina do not quite know what to do with themselves once they’re all alone. Laia’s absence is a jittery shock for the other two, not least because she’s the one who always sleeps in the middle. But there are only so many dropped calls, mopey glasses of wine and complaints about bad connections that an audience can take. If being in a throuple involves double the anxiety and 10 times the analysis of every single minor interpersonal interaction, this movie is not exactly its best advertisement.

Well, these women – who are playing versions of themselves, as is made explicit – clearly like their life, which is presented as a fait accompli, which is pretty cool. It’s incredibly refreshing to see gay people onscreen who are not plagued by self-doubt, and it’s even more of a joy that the relentless parlor self-analysis common to Americans seems unknown here. Within the tight limits of the setting, the fact that news updates on their absent love come most reliably from Instagram stories will be extremely relatable for anyone who’s been alive since 2020. But their level of self-acceptance is not matched by the confidence of the script; so little happens in “Petit Mal” that the plot description above is already stretching it. The creative cast seem to have realized this, hence the musical number at the end. This was a project to stay sane in lockdown, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But a little more imagination would have lifted the movie past its clever setup into something more fun to watch than it was to make.

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