Petit Four

By Kalainithan Kalaichelvan | Drama
An elderly man suspects his wife is having an affair with a ghost.

Wilfred has long been married to Agnes, but as the years have stretched into decades, they have become increasingly lost to one another. They live in their grand, empty home but rarely talk, and when they do, there is something missing, though Agnes seems as cheerful as ever.

Yet Wilfred begins to detect that Agnes’s attention is elsewhere, and senses a hidden presence in their home that has Agnes in its sight — one that seems to be wedging itself between him and Agnes. And when Agnes becomes more distant as Wilfred’s insecurity escalates, Wilfred takes action to claim his wife and regain her affections.

Writer-director Kalainithan Kalaichelvan’s short psychological mystery-drama is both a gorgeously crafted supernatural suspense thriller and a pensive, melancholic meditation on aging, long-term connection and the ghosts we battle within ourselves as we face our own limitations and mortality. The writing unfolds with a supreme sense of elegance and discipline, culminating in a finale that is equal parts shocking and heartbreaking, twisting the reality it has so painstakingly constructed into something both uncanny and relatable.

Visually, the film is lovely, with a clarity and luminosity of light and a stately eye for an almost too refined framing and composition. The visual beauty of the film is composed and serene, with a gracefulness aided by sure-handed editing and a rich musical score. But serenity can often tip towards inertia, and here it beautifully captures the stasis that exists between Wilfred and his wife. Theirs is a beautiful world, but there is something off within it.

The writing and performances — especially by lead actor Peter Higginson — are able to evoke the weight of a long-running history and past. Higginson especially captures the core of tenderness and absolute love he has for Agnes, and the durability of their bond. It’s easy to understand why Wilfred works so hard to battle at the presence coming between him and Agnes, and also why she begins to chafe at his growing insecurities.

As the film proceeds — and Wilfred continues to investigate the disturbance in his home — the narrative slowly shifts and morphs into a slow-burn of a thriller, culminating in an ending that reveals just what has warped Wilfred’s marriage and trust in his wife.

“Petit Four” has a stately European flair and the dressings of “class,” with a sheen of exquisite taste and luxury. But underneath this seemingly unruffled surface is a clever, adroit sleight of hand that plays with perception and reality. It reveals that there’s something lurking underneath the peaceable complacency in Wilfred’s life — something darker and genuinely sorrowful, especially once the fullness of its meaning comes to fore and the tragic reality of the situation is revealed.

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