'Petit Mal' Review: A Melancholic Tale of Sapphic Polyamory

'Petit Mal' Review: A Melancholic Tale of Sapphic Polyamory

A rare glimpse into the lives of a sapphic polyamorous throuple, Petit Mal (literally translating from its original French as “little evil” and defined in the film’s opening as “absence’s pain”) follows three Columbian women – including Spanish-born writer/director/editor Ruth Caudeli herself – as they navigate a difficult period in their otherwise happy relationship when Caudeli’s character, Lai, has to leave their peaceful home in the countryside for an extended work trip. 

From the very beginning of this 2023 release, the viewer recognizes the sheer amount of love and care put into this semi-autobiographical story by the same writer and director of the 2018 sapphic film Eve + Candela. From its warm and cozy vibes reminiscent of nostalgic home videos to its chaptered structure that divides the split between the characters in black-and-white segments, Petit Mal explores the isolation and loneliness that can emerge when “throuple” temporarily becomes “couple.”


Messy in its many sporadically-placed montage sequences yet otherwise risk-free in its simplistic filmmaking, the film mainly follows burnt-out Marti and insecure Anto (played by Colombian actresses Silvia Varón and Ana María Otálora, respectively) as they navigate an emptier home devoid of their – for lack of a better phrase – better third.

Even though we’ve just met these characters when one of them whisks off for an undisclosed “work trip,” they are uniquely characterized, allowing viewers to gradually relate to different aspects of each woman: Marti, the frustrated videographer working on a documentary about her and her girlfriends’ idyllic lives; Lai, the emotionally-withdrawn “glue” that holds the trio of women together, even in her absence; and Anto, the clingy musician on a journey of self-confidence whose breathtaking song towards the end of the film wraps the throuple’s lives up in a colorful, glittery ribbon.

While this film’s slow pace and melancholic (oftentimes bordering on melodramatic) tone isn’t for everyone, I do consider this one of the most carefully-crafted sapphic love stories I’ve ever seen up on the big screen. Even though this is definitely the quintessential “nothing happens, but the vibes tho” movie, I still highly recommend it for those in search of a film about, by, and for queer sapphics (or for those simply looking to vicariously live a life spent in a beautiful house in the Columbian countryside alongside five excitable dogs and two depressed women - up to you!)