GOODBYE, PETRUSHKA, Directed by Nicola Rose
Goodbye Petrushka (2022). 1hr 40 min. Written and directed by Nicola Rose. Starring Lizzie Kehoe, Thomas Vieljeux, and Casey Landman.
While it’s tempting to label writer/director Nicola Rose’s first feature as another quirky romcom, to do so would be cheating yourself out of its unique magic. From the moment the story unfolds we sense an artful eye behind the lens. The film is woven with animation, adorable sock puppets, and classic comedic turns such as an actor playing multiple roles.
When Claire, (played by Lizzie Kehoe), a puppeteer/filmmaking student living in New York City, struggles to find her creative voice and place in life, her fun-loving wacky best friend Julia (scene-stealing Casey Landman) convinces Claire to drop out of college and escape to Paris, casually mentioning that her uncle runs the Puppetry Arts Institute of Paris. The prospect seems irresistible to Claire, being a Francophile; in awe of the prestigious puppetry institute, she has dreamed of going to Paris ever since she was a kid and taught herself to speak fluent French.
However, before Claire and Julia’s amazing adventures begin, Claire meets the sensitive and brooding French figure skater, Thibaut (Thomas Vieljeux). And what begins as a brief polite encounter on the street, leaves Claire so smitten, it sends her on a late-night Googling spiral as she fantasizes about their brilliant futures together.
Shortly after Claire arrives in Paris, she suffers a maddening stint as a babysitter complete with taunting children and sadistic parents to pay the bills; meanwhile Julia — who brings to mind a gentler Ilana Glazer — lives in high style coasting on her family’s wealth. Still, Claire’s struggles seem worthwhile, especially since she has the chance to shoot her documentary about the Puppetry Arts Institute.
Hoping to reconnect with Thibault, Claire seeks him out and convinces him to collaborate on an adaptation of the book, “Petrushka a Puppet Ballet,” with Thibault as the lead character on ice skates, the rest puppets. As her creativity blossoms in unexpected directions, Claire is elated by her future, stepping into her power. In contrast, Thibaut believes he’s already had his fifteen minutes of fame and needs to change course, in favor of a more realistic path. Instead of resorting to manipulations as a plot device to keep these characters apart, Rose’s screenplay cleverly juxtaposes her leads at different life stages. The result sparks intriguing interactions, resulting in natural conflict.
A large part of the story takes place in Paris, lovingly drawing back the curtain on Parisian glamor and sophistication—the cramped messy maid’s quarters where Claire stays, and the relentless bullying of parents she works for, make Claire’s struggles seem all too real. At times the film is goofy and larger than life, other times the tone is very subtle, and a single look conveys a universe of emotion—such as the scene where an impassioned Claire convinces Thibault over lunch that his talent is worth fighting for because “Some of us need to see a sunbeam every once in a while.”
What’s most captivating about the film is the genuine sweetness of Claire and her view of life. Kehoe’s performance is effortlessly charming, believable, and always interesting. In Claire, Director Rose manages to capture a pitch-perfect melding of hopeful innocence, and unbridled exuberance that only comes with youth.
Worth watching, Good-Bye Petrushka, is both a lighthearted feel-good film with a deeper, thoughtful one hidden beneath. There’s nothing traditional about girl meets boy in this heartfelt tale about unmet expectations and creative vision. Claire and Thibaut’s journey prompts reflections on the nature of love, soulmates, and ultimately timing. Expect to find yourself laughing and pondering the meaning of life at the same time, and that’s part of the fun.