PETIT MAL – Review by Jennifer Green

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It’s a brave thing to open up your life and home to a camera, even as a “real fiction,” as the throuple of Ruth Caudeli, Silvia Varón and Ana María Otálora have done in the 2022 Tribeca premiere Petit Mal. They are full of the courage or arrogance (or both) of being young and in love and full of creative energy. Perhaps if director Caudeli had erred on the side of more fiction and less reality, their film would have been more entertaining.

As it is, the Spanish-language Petit Mal may make an important contribution toward representation of throuples on screen, but it ultimately plays like a home movie of three young women with very little to say. Literally: they often act out their emotions through looks and even sounds rather than with words. That greenness, for lack of a better word, detracts from the seriousness of their message about threeway couplings, which an introductory sequence tells us come with their own set of challenges.

The set-up is that Laia (Caudeli), an actress, is traveling abroad for work. That leaves Marti (Varón) and Anto (Otálora) home alone in their beautiful glass-and-wood dwelling somewhere in the Colombian countryside. Laia seems to be the dominant third, the glue that holds the throuple together, and Marti and Anto find they have little in common without her. Not subtly, the cinematography turns to black and white when Laia goes away.

Slowly, in Laia’s absence, and especially as she settles in with her crew (seen through party photos and videos posted to Instagram), Marti and Anto start to find solace and companionship in each other. This culminates in the film’s only real sex scene and a sequence where the two take a drug together (and their world turns to color again temporarily).

Petit Mal is pleasant enough to watch: its stars seem like nice people, and the setting is attractive and cozy. The three young women are certainly photogenic, and Otálora has a lovely singing voice, displayed in a scene filmed by Marti.

Part of the plotline is a film within a film that Marti is making. Her backers keep asking for something “more original.” “More original than our life?” the other two keep asking, hinting at their own certainty that their film, too, is interesting because it’s how they live. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prove entirely true.

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Jennifer Green

Jennifer Green is a regular contributor to Common Sense Media, The Hollywood Reporter, The Seattle Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was Screen International's correspondent in Spain for ten years. She launched the newspaper column and website Films from Afar to curate international films available for home streaming. She has served on film festival juries across Spain and North Africa and teaches journalism and film to university students.