'Patrick': Film Review | San Sebastian 2019

Courtesy of San Sebastian International Film Festival
You always hurt the one you love.

Actor Goncalo Waddington's directorial debut features Hugo Fernandes as a damaged abduction survivor struggling to reintegrate into his family.

Actor turned writer-director Goncalo Waddington’s debut feature Patrick offers up a dramatic, literal illustration of that old therapeutic adage that “hurt people hurt people.” Filtered through the eyes of its title character (Hugo Fernandes, Cezanne et Moi), a young man who was kidnapped as a child and subjected to years of sexual abuse, the film watches implacably as he abuses both strangers and members of the family he’s reunited with back in Portugal after a 12-year absence.

Even accounting for the intrinsic bleakness of the subject, this is one bitter draft that many may find too unpalatable to drink, especially since it refuses to offer even the tiniest chaser of hope — unlike, say, the thematically similar Room. Moreover, there are some procedural details that fray the basic setup’s plausibility in places. Still, Waddington clearly has game when it comes to building up suspenseful, fetid intensity and — unsurprisingly, given his experience in front of the camera elsewhere (such as Miguel Gomes Arabian Nights films) — handles actors with skill.

In the opening scene, 20-year-old Patrick (Fernandes) is seen having his entirely fat-free body lasered to remove body hair, seemingly in an effort to make him fit a certain ephebe-like ideal of male beauty and mimic a youthfulness that his bad acne and sullen disposition disputes. By night, he prowls night clubs looking for women even younger than himself and getting into fights. 

But by day this semi-feral creature lives like a pampered pet in the plush home of a rich older man with whom he has a sexual relationship. When Patrick throws a raucous party one night, the police break it up, interrupting his attempt to rape a drunk young woman. That leads to the discovery of a website he sells access to on the dark web filled with footage of him violating other semi-conscious young women as well as a years-old clip showing Patrick as a child being abused himself.

Taciturn Patrick barely says a word as at first a French cop and later a Portuguese policeman lay out the backstory, revealing that Patrick’s real name is Mario and that he was abducted from his hometown in Portugal at the age of 8 and presumed lost until now. It’s at this point that the film diverges from the likes of Room by positing that the cops would decide to just drop charges, and send him across the border with a Portuguese detective to be effectively dumped on his mother’s doorstep without any kind of post-traumatic therapy and rehabilitation process.

Given that, it’s hardly any wonder that it goes pretty badly once Mario/Patrick comes “home,” where his clearly seriously depressed and grief-damaged mother (Teresa Sobra) struggles to reconnect with him. After all, she lost a little boy, and this strange young man who seems hesitant to speak his mother tongue and barely remembers his old life is hardly a substitute. Her sister (Carla Maciel), who fusses anxiously and seems to think all problems can be solved with food, arrives with his attractive, engaging young cousin (Alba Baptista), perhaps thinking that Mario will open up to his old playmate from childhood. The strategy works up to the point where it all goes hideously wrong and Patrick/Mario flees back to Belgium to confront the mysterious Mark, whom he can’t stop trying to connect to on the phone.

The long, somewhat ponderous midsection, full of intentionally phatic small talk from people who don’t know what to say in these extraordinary circumstances, is bookended by lurid scenes of violence that punctuate but don’t necessarily resolve the story’s emotional logic. Nevertheless, Waddington’s script and direction evoke through strong visuals and telling silences the fog of pain and remorse that envelops everyone here, even the poor cousin who has carried guilt for 12 years that she didn’t go to meet Mario after soccer practice on the day he was abducted.

In its own quiet way, Patrick confronts viewers with the fact that most people who abuse were themselves abused as children — a fact that’s usually veiled by keeping the original sin hidden by the sedimental layers of age, so that we largely associate sexual abuse as something committed by ugly older people, especially men, not by young people on even younger people. Arguably, it’s Patrick/Mario’s barely-out-of-his-teens youthfulness that makes his own crimes seem so chilling, final and warped. This uncomfortable reminder that such psychology is all too possible is what makes the film so hard to watch.

Production companies: O Som e a Furia, Augenschein Filmproduktion, ZDF
Cast: Hugo Fernandes, Teresa Sobral, Carla Maciel, Alba Baptusta, Miguel Hetz-Kestranek
Director-screenwriter: Goncalo Waddington
Producers: Luis Urbano, Sandro Aguilar
Co-producers: Jonas Katzenstein, Maximilian Leo
Director of photography: Vasco Viana
Art director: Nadia Henriques
Costume designer: Peri De Braganca
Editor: Pedro Filipe Marques
Music: Bruno Pernadas
Casting: Karen Hottois, Anja Dihrberg, Raquel Da Silva
Venue: San Sebastian International Film Festival (Official Selection)
Sales: The Match Factory

103 minutes