SSIFF review: Patrick (Gonçalo Waddington)

Built on top of a magnificent performance by Hugo Fernandes, Portuguese director Gonçalo Waddington’s powerful debut feature Patrick investigates the psychological aftermath of longterm child abuse and the question whether some broken family bonds can ever be really mended. Can a mother-son relationship be rebuilt after a decade of absence, or will they have become strangers and succumb to reproach?

When we first meet Patrick (Fernandes) it immediately registers there is something off with him. He engages in a stream of parties, drugs, sex, and violence, but he does not seem to get much pleasure out of it. He films young girls having sex with him and sells the videos online, and he lives in Paris with Thomas (Raphaël Tschudi) in the latter’s apartment in an apparently gay relationship, although he later denies Thomas is his boyfriend. His closed-off behavior signals a secret, and when he is arrested for selling drugs at a party this secret is soon revealed.

Patrick is actually Mário. As a young boy he was abducted in Portugal and sexually abused for a decade before being released at the age of 18. Instead of going back to Portugal he chose to move to Paris and became who he is today. The detective on his original abduction case convinces him to return to his mother Laura (Teresa Sobral). But returning home is anything but easy. She is aware of the accusations against him, and he harbors resentment for her not trying to find him. Suddenly these two strangers have to form a fragile relationship, but can they? Things fare better with a visiting cousin of his own age, Marta (Alba Baptista), but when his past life catches up with him his two personalities clash. Will he become Patrick, a young man whose life is dominated by empty sex and drugs, or Mário, a shy young man living rural life in a broken family?

Every review for Patrick should begin and end with Hugo Fernandes’ phenomenal portrayal of the title character. It is sad the film probably will not be seen by a large audience, because his is truly one of the great male performances of this decade. A lot of the character is internalized because Patrick is not exactly someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve, so most of the time it comes down to body language and especially Fernandes’ eyes to convey what is going through his character’s mind. A mixture of rage, fear, and insecurity registers in the gaze of the emotionally stunted young man, yet as he gradually opens up to Marta moments of true, externalized sadness or joy creep in, and Fernandes calibrates these moments perfectly to give a sense of growth in Patrick. Still, underneath the surface there is a simmering feeling that he could explode at any time, which makes any scene where he is alone with Marta a tense situation for the viewer. You feel for him because of his history, so you don’t want him to screw it up, but you sense that he could at any moment.

The strength of Waddington’s film lies in the uncertainty he builds around the character, as you never really know where to place Patrick. Instinctively you want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but Patrick remains unpredictable. He is a loner, something Waddington captures by placing him in wide, empty long shots. A very sparse score, mostly piano pieces, emphasizes the calm of the Portuguese countryside where you’re not sure Patrick feels at home, but contrasted with the techno beat that accompanies his earliest scenes in Paris, making you well aware that there is a Hyde to Mário’s Jekyll. Fernandes’ lead is complemented by a strong cast of supporting players, with especially Sobral as his mother and Adriano Carvalho, as a father who only briefly shows up, making a big impression. But the film belongs to Fernandes, who embodies the conflict raging within his character with a tuned performance that deserves to be recognized.