Goodbye, Petrushka is a quirky take on aimless youth. The film revolves around 19-year-old Claire, played by Lizzie Kehoe, a New York City student who impulsively decides to move to Paris. Claire is a unique female protagonist, a reserved young woman with a love of puppetry. Kehoe has a sparkling presence with her high-watt smile and bright eyes. Her sugary sweet energy and earnest awkwardness are absolutely infectious.
A great source of humor in the film is one of the opening scenes where she must navigate a pretentious film class with students who are worried about the problematic elements of each other’s work and a teacher (the hilarious Dhane Ross) who just wants to promote his own movies. Claire would rather film her puppet shows. Frustrations at school lead to her hasty decision to travel overseas, along with her best friend Julia. Casey Landman is a bold force to be reckoned with in this kooky role—a boisterous and theatrical germaphobe. Landman deftly balances Julia’s self-centered eccentricity with genuine compassion for her friend.
Goodbye Petrushka flirts with the romance genre when Claire meets Thibaut (Thomas Vieljeux), a defeated ice skater who has been told he is past his prime. The darkly handsome Vieljeux has a pensive sensitivity that works well for the anguished role, and it provides a nice contrast to Kehoe’s bubbly personality. Both are connected by a passion for their craft. Thibaut and Claire quickly bond and plan to create a puppet/ice skating show, illustrated in cute animated sequences by Tommy Cha. Writer and director Nicola Rose defies genre expectations by placing the importance on bettering yourself rather than finding love, but the romantic tension between Claire and Thibaut throughout the film is intriguing. The misty piano score, reminiscent of a music box, coalescences the film’s elegant images of ballet, ice skating, and puppetry, as well as the themes of leaving childhood behind.
Although Claire likes Thibaut, she also gets involved with a lanky student at the puppet conservatory (Bartek Szymanski). Unlike most coming-of-age films, the virginity loss plotline is handled in a grounded and authentic manner. It’s refreshing to see an “older” character go through a first-time sexual experience that has all the confusion and disappointment of real life. Rose is great at capturing these kinds of genuine, even discomfiting, moments but she seems to relish over-the-top (sometimes quite lengthy) set pieces and visual gags, such as the same actress who plays a woman that appears as a different character in various public places or the bratty children Claire babysits and throws puppet parties for.
The film leans heavily on its humour, supported by its effervescent leading lady, and it has a certain je ne sai quoi that makes it a joy to watch. Goodbye, Petrushka is a whimsical delight in every way.
By Caroline Madden
Caroline is the author of Springsteen as Soundtrack. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Baby It’s You, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She is the Editor in Chief of Video Librarian. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss.