By Elias Savada.
Nicola Rose’s first feature displays some grand baby steps towards a brighter future. You just have to accept the weird, brightly-colored yet sparse tableau she has drawn here.”
For those of us who like romantic comedies, Goodbye, Petrushka falls amidst the genre’s smaller ones best described as quirky, wobbly, and bittersweet, yet it is adorned with a solid heart on its music box sleeve. The film revolves around an impulsive and quite naïve 19-year-old student who wants to be a puppeteer. If not, maybe she’ll be a filmmaker. She is trying to find her footing in a fantasy version of the world, which physically meanders between New York and Paris (with the dialogue moving to and fro in each language), but metaphorically resides in absurdly clean and barely crowded versions of those places.
Filmmaker Nicola Rose’s first feature – she writes and directs, and produces with Tierney Boorboor – displays some grand baby steps towards a brighter future. You just have to accept the weird, brightly-colored yet sparse tableau she has drawn here, a re-interpretation of her 2017 whimsical, experimental short Creative Block, a two-character piece adrift in a dream world that features a direct subway ride between the Big Apple and Gay Paree! The feature edition has more time for its actors to imprint their would-be lovers’ themes: Claire Michelle Burkhardt, a dreamy eyed New Jersey-native and New York City college student (then played by Rose as well, but now robustly portrayed by Lizzie Kehoe) and aging, frustrated French figure skater Thibaut Baudet, with Thomas Vieljeux reprising his role.
The first moments of the film flit between each lead’s own worlds. Well, mostly Claire’s. She’s taking gloomy classes from an outlandish, self-deifying cinema “Professor Steve” (Dhane Ross), who decorates his classroom (well, it’s more like a dimly lit, oversized closet) with faux, self-indulgent posters for Being Steve Milkovitch and Steve On Fire. When he and his kissing-ass students show nothing but bitterness toward Claire, the disillusioned, outcast undergrad decides to go with her dream instead. Off to Paris she goes, her college funds quickly drained.
For Thibaut, his 15 minutes of fame is seemingly behind him (or so the smarmy president of the skating league tells him, all too bluntly in typical New York fashion, “You are old news…and old news goes out with the garbage.”
The pair briefly meet by chance on a New York City sidewalk, and she becomes transfixed on him, in an innocent, got-a-crush, way. No, it doesn’t escalate at all even to the lighter side of Fatal Attraction, the 1987 psycho thriller. Don’t go in expecting kitchen knives flailing about, although a certain amount of deception is touched upon by at least one of the supporting characters.
Along for the French ride is Claire’s boisterous, wacky friend Julia (Casey Landman) who talks a mile-a-minute and spouts strange conversation that is often bewildering, and funny.
Claire takes an au-pair gig in Paris with the depressingly air-headed and downright spit(e)ful St. Pierre family, while trying to make inroads at the Puppetry Arts Institute of Paris. At that institution (another barebones set), actor Joëlle Hadda Champeyroux takes on a half-dozen annoying bureaucrat roles stifling Claire’s attempt to make a documentary of the school (a project apparently abandoned as the film progresses) or promote a puppet show featuring herself and Thibaut, who whom she has reconnected.
While the ebullient American dotes on the ice skater’s online videos, she doesn’t catch on to some of his very important postings on his social networking sites. Depression and hiccups ensue, as do some dream (and dream-like) animated sequences.
Rafal (Bartek Szymanski), a cute student whose facial mannerisms and toothy smile mimics those embraced by Kehoe to portray Claire, offers her comfort (and first-time sex) while she tries to figure out whether or not the now-retired Thibaut will eventually melt into her arms.
Rose treats Claire and Thibaut’s evolving relationship as a confused un-requited affair, then makes a masterful single transition to show the desperation of their disparate, insecure connections.
The film, shot during the pandemic, is a shoestring production, particularly set-wise, with close- and medium-shot interiors that have plenty of color but not much umph. Since it is a character-driven work, you can just roll with that. The few exteriors of Paris are slight drone shots, but they just give you the impression that the scenes shot here in the United States (covid to blame) happen over there.
I was annoyed that Rose’s world offers few other passersby in any of its worldly settings, so you’re pushed to accept Goodbye, Petrushka in its own microcosm.
The film is on numerous pay-per-view platforms, including Amazon’s Prime Video (free with subscription), Tubi (with ads), and Google Play.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).