Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Petite Maman

Written by Taylor Baker

78/100

“Say goodbye.”

Petite Maman will historically be known as the film that Celine Sciamma followed up her intimate, awarding winning and otherworldly Portrait of a Lady on Fire with. Perhaps unfairly, as her predecessor to that title, Girlhood bears none of the brunt of the comparison that Petite Maman must contend with. Petite Maman like Portrait feels like an enchantment. A storied fable comes to bright life in front of us, played so straight that it’s easy to think you’re the one getting things confused. Why is Nelly’s mother gone? And at what point exactly did this child, Marion enter and why does she seem so much like Nelly’s mother?

Petite Maman sets out with a family reeling from the loss of a matriarch. Not just a mother, or a mother in law, but a grandmother. It’s Nelly’s (played by newcomer Josephine Sanz) first exposure to the face of death. And it leaves an indelible mark on her. Sciamma is interested in and successful at expressing the longing for understanding of a child. The yearn for connection, to know undoubtedly what is true. Because a parent’s role after all is to protect a child from some of the harshness they’ll come to find in life. This protection indelibly becomes apparent to all youth as they age further and wonder about that boundary of distinction offered by a parents protection from reality. 

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

At one point Nelly directly asks her father, aptly named le pere what he was like as a boy. Who he was, what scared him. It’s a long look back at identity from his perspective, but it’s her beginning to formulate the identities and lives of others around her simultaneously. To experience a child going through this step in person is something magical itself, and Sciamma magnifies just the right parts of that to bring it to life without losing any of the intimacy of such a monumental shift in growth to the screen. One can’t separate this maturity with the massive longing and loss of her grandmother, whose cane she procured before leaving the hospital. Part token of her grandmother, part totem to her. It, like so many choices in the film, feels real, relentlessly and intimately so.

Similar to Christian Petzold’s Undine from 2020 or Murakami’s magical realism behemoth Killing Commendatore that resembles a sculpture more than a book, you’re unsure exactly where the boundaries of this fable are. How is it that her mother is a little girl? At one point Marion (Nelly’s mother) asks, how she got there after Nelly reveals that she is her daughter. Her reply, “I come from the path behind you.” rings with a delicious metaphorical completeness. At once indisputable and incomprehensible. How else could she have come? How else indeed.

Petite Maman Trailer

Petite Maman was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Episode 93: Preston Sturges: Easy Living / The Lady Eve / Sullivan’s Travels

“When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.”

Preston Sturges

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Undine & Babyteeth and the Preston Sturges Films: Easy Living, The Lady Eve, and Sullivan’s Travels.

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There are no streaming links for titles this episode

The Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels are currently available to rent or purchase digitally

Easy Living is not currently available

You can read Michael’s review of Easy Living here.

Episode 86: VIFF 2020 & NYFF 2020 / Undine / Nomadland / Time / The Human Voice

“A documentary film-maker can’t help but use poetry to tell the story. I bring truth to my fiction. These things go hand in hand.”

Chloé Zhao

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: Sound of Metal & Minari. Followed by the VIFF 2020 and NYFF 2020 Titles: Undine, Nomadland, Time, and The Human Voice.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

Time is currently available on Prime Video

Undine has been acquired by IFC and currently awaits an official release date.

Nomadland has been pushed back from it’s December 4th 2020 release date and has not yet received an official release date.

The Human Voice will become available on March 21st, 2021

Drink in the Movies would like to thank PODGO for sponsoring this episode. You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up for an account here. If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!

Undine

Written by Alina Faulds

60/100

Director Christian Petzold brings Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski together again for his latest feature Undine, a love story tinged with European mythology. The film opens on a bitter note, Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) brings Undine (Paula Beer) to their regular date spot, a cafe outside the Berlin City Museum-to break up with her. She tells him that she’ll have to kill him. While subtly shown in the film, the title gives Undine’s true presence away. She is an undine, a type of water nymph that longs to live amongst humans. With Johannes breaking up with her he’s doomed Undine, but her luck changes very quickly when she’s swept off her feet by a diver named Christoph (Franz Rogowski). 

Undine works best when it focuses on its romance. Petzold previously had Beer and Rogowski act as love interests in his film Transit, and their chemistry is just as present in Undine. Undine and Christoph fall for each other hard, cuddled in each other’s arms as they stroll the streets of Berlin and steal kisses from each other. Undine works as a historian at the Berlin City Museum giving lectures on urban development. Christoph loves her so dearly that he happily listens to her speaking and also takes her diving to see her name carved on an underwater wall. They’re quite the sentimental pair as Undine carries around a diver figurine that looks like it belongs in a fish tank. Rogowski makes Christoph into an extremely kind and loving man, fascinated with Undine’s quiet intensity. Petzold takes meticulous care in crafting the relationship between Undine and Christoph, their love is what ties the film together.

Where Petzold’s film struggles is in its mythology, which is largely brushed over. Undine is supposed to be an undine, but Petzold never makes this clear other than a strange underwater scene with a catfish named Gunther. The water nymph story is not explained very well either, as Petzold goes for a subtler approach with his narrative. When Undine tells Johannes that she’ll have to kill him for breaking up with her, it’s not implied that Undine is a water nymph and would have to go back to the lake from which she came. Her great desire to stay on land fails to be explored properly because of how quickly she meets Christoph. Any time Petzold tries to hint at this mystical plot point Undine loses itself. 
Undine works best when it purely focuses on the aching romance between Undine and Christoph. The tension between Beer and Rogowski translates beautifully into the devoted love their characters have for each other. Yet Petzold’s insistence on adding the undine water nymph myth into his film does not work, especially for those who have no prior knowledge of water nymph characteristics. The fact that Undine is an undine feels shoehorned into the film for no good reason other than a nice parallel that Christoph happens to be a diver and Undine is from a lake. If Petzold had taken more time to articulate how undines function this story would have worked much better, unfortunately, Undine is too rushed, a murky romance that loses itself in unexplained mythology.

Undine screened as part of the 2020 Vancouver International Film Festival.

VIFF Website: https://viff.org/Online/

You can follow Alina Faulds’ Letterboxd, Twitter, or Instagram and view more of her work here.