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Petit Mal

Betzy Bromberg

USA, 1977
18 minutes, Colour, sound
Available formats: 16mm

‘The abstracted voice of one and many women searching’. (bb)

“Shot in and around New York City, Bromberg’s first 16mm film, Petit Mal, is an invigorating, pissed-off assessment of women’s physical and social confinement. Ostensibly a portrait of an artist friend, the film is driven by a conversational first-person voiceover describing feelings of being trapped by the expectations of others. Bromberg’s handheld camera follows the woman into the subway, the car, and down the sidewalk, catching the filmmaker’s own reflection in mirrors and windows. A lush green wood appears, a momentary respite from the concrete strictures of the city. But the image speaks to an interior world more than an external one. “It’s because I feel so hemmed in that I have to keep myself free inside,” says the woman’s voice. In the end, Petit Mal is a kind of double-portrait: both Bromberg and her subject insisting on moving freely, to open up space in an environment that would prefer to constrain and define”. – Vera Brunner-Sung, Millennium Film Journal Vol. No. 67

“Petit Mal is a raw, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink movie: choppy street scenes, a girl clowning, subway sequences enlivened by artless over exposures and split screens. What holds it together is the strong and unobtrusive audio track, a mélange of confessional rapping, nondescript mood music and slyly gratuitous sound effects.” – J. Hoberman, Art Forum