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When she sees him at a hospital fund-raiser, newlywed San Francisco socialite Petulia Danner, who has been married to naval engineer David Danner for six months, seems determined to have an affair with soon to be divorced physician Dr. Archie Bollen, who has been married to his wife Polo for close to ten years, their marriage which many saw as being perfect. Archie doesn't even know Petulia's name, but only knows her as the woman who brought in a young Mexican boy into the hospital with serious injuries. Petulia's pursuit of Archie is relentless - she even declaring that they will someday be married - even as Archie dates another woman named May. Archie eventually learns part of the reason why Petulia is so determined to cheat on David as her relationship to David and David's wealthy father are brought to light. Archie also learns that getting involved with Petulia in any regard has its consequences, both for Petulia herself and for him, most specifically in his relationship to Polo. Written by
I've never seen a film which captured the confusion of love gone wrong like this. The kaleidoscopic editing can be a distraction but it also helps create the torment of the main character as his life slowly ceases to make sense. Stunningly photographed by Nicolas Roeg, and a clear influence on his later BAD TIMING, in which the neurosis, present in all the characters of PETULIA, blossoms into full-blown psychosis. What this film has over Roeg's is a sharper compassion and a satiric portrait of late summer-of-love San Francisco which feels accurate and quite ahead of its time. Disillusion has already set in. George C Scott is majestic, and Julie Christie goes from irritating in the "BRINGING up BABY for the Pepsi Generation" opening sequences, to ultimately moving and affecting. The ending, where she goes under the gas (to give birth, but it feels more permanent than that), is as oddly chilling as Lester's earlier HOW I WON THE WAR (which ends with Michael Crawford eating a biscuit, and manages to make this terrifying). What can I say? If you have time and sympathy for people who are a bit screwed up, PETULIA may speak to you.
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