Petit Mal sets out to explore the nature of a polyamorous relationship with all its ups and downs — many of which are the same as you find in any long-term romantic relationship. Jealousy, hurt feelings, communication breakdowns and reconciliations are all depicted here with vibrant emotional authenticity. The film blends fact and fiction to follow the lives of an all-woman throuple navigating what it means to be in a polyamorous relationship. Writer, director and star Ruth Caudeli based the film on her real-life experiences, and the sincerity of the emotions at play makes the film work.
Laia (Caudeli) is a filmmaker living in a remote forest home with composer Anto (Ana María Otálora) and fellow filmmaker Martina (Silvia Varón). The throuple have been together for several years, and their move out to the relative isolation of a mid-century modern mansion in the woods has created an insular environment for their love to thrive. At the start of the story, Laia seems very much to be the center of their relationship’s structure. Anto and Martina rely on her both physically and emotionally. When Laia is called away to work on a dream project at a location where she will not have cell service, all three women contend with the dramatic shift in their world’s design.
Filmed during the pandemic, Petit Mal is a pandemic-era movie done right. The action takes place largely within the confines of their gorgeous home, but the single-location setting never feels restrictive or repetitive. Caudeli keeps the focus squarely on Laia, Anto and Martina — mostly the latter two as they deal with the loneliness together. Otálora and Varón craft compelling and complex women whose difficulty opening up to someone they’ve been with for a long time feels believable and real. There’s little place for melodrama in Caudeli’s script, which creates space to explore their internal worlds. No need for external problems when the conflicts are so clear and so effectively conveyed. What will the other women do when Laia is gone? Will they learn what it means to be in love? Will that affect their throuple when she returns?
Although specifically about a throuple, Petit Mal travels the same emotional ground seen in many independent films of its nature. That’s really the point — that these women are living within an arrangement that may seem exotic to outsiders, but … really isn’t when you get down to what a relationship ultimately entails. It is stubbornly devoted to being precisely what Caudeli wants it to be, which is as mundane and accurate as possible. So devoted, in fact, that Martina’s story arc is partially about finding financing to produce a documentary about their lives, which runs into difficulty when producers ask for a more exciting twist than “women fall in love and experience complex circumstances within their relationship.” If that’s a story specifically from the making of Petit Mal, I’m glad the funding came around. It’s always rewarding to see emotionally intelligent, unapologetically sincere dramas that don’t shy away from their truth.