September 16, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Mothering Sunday,” “Petite Maman” & “All My Puny Sorrows”


MOTHERING SUNDAY (Sony Classics – Nov 19):  Eva Husson’s film, adapted by Alice Birch from a Graham Swift novel, has many of the rote trappings of prestige costume drama.  We’re back in the English countryside, during the interim between World Wars.  Class distinctions are very much at the center of things, as manor-born Paul (Josh O’Connor, from The Crown) has a passionate, secret relationship with the neighbor’s maid Jane (Odessa Young).  Mothering Sunday, though, is more ambitious than that, and although the central action takes place in a single day, it roams through time to examine the aftereffects of grief, and the way life is transformed into art.  In all this, it recalls Atonement, although this is more of a mood piece and lacks that story’s gripping plot.  The script is a bit too under-developed to fully convey the complexities of what happens to Jane, and becomes less assured when it moves off that central day.  Nevertheless, it’s a pleasurable visit to the kind of film James Ivory helped to popularize, albeit more definitively R-rated than those tended to be.The cast is as strong as we expect in British period drama, with fine contributions from O’Connor, Olivia Colman and Colin Firth (as Jane’s employers) and–very briefly–Glenda Jackson.  Mothering Sunday may be most memorable, though, as a showcase for Odessa Young, who’s done fine supporting work in films like Shirley, but here takes unquestioned ownership of the screen.  The luxurious cinematography is by Jamie Ramsay, and the country-house porn production design is by Helen Scott.  The film probably lacks the substance needed for an awards run, but it should satisfy audiences seeking a big-screen feature version of the kind of drama we more often get these days on TV.

PETITE MAMAN (Neon – date TBD):  Celine Sciamma’s Portrait Of a Lady On Fire was something of a revelation, teeming with emotions reflected by every aspect of the film from the landscapes and pounding surf to a culminating overwhelming visual reveal.  Her new film Petite Maman is far more compact, a barely feature-length fable 70 minutes long with a simple but striking premise.  Nelly’s (Josephine Sanz) maternal grandmother has just died, and while her mother heads back to the city, Nelly stays with her father while he sorts out the old woman’s house.  Wandering through the surrounding woods, Nelly comes upon Marion (played by Jacqueline’s real-life sister Gabrielle), a girl her age who befriends her.  Sciamma doesn’t try to hide who Marion magically is for the sake of a “twist,” and the film becomes a delicate piece of emotional time travel, as Nelly comes to know her mother in a way she never could in their usual positions.  On its own tiny terms, Petite Maman is beautifully worked out, and placed alongside Portrait Of a Lady it provides an exciting view of how broad Schamma’s range is as a filmmaker and storyteller.

ALL MY PUNY SORROWS (no distrib):  The tale of a family suffocated with misery, and about as much fun as that sounds.  As children, Yoli (Alison Pill) and Elf (Sarah Gadon) endured the suicide of their beloved father.  Decades later, Yoli, now a barely-functioning novelist in the middle of a bad divorce, is summoned home when Elf, riven with depression despite a glamorous concert-pianist career and a loving partner, attempts suicide.  Considering how confined the action is–the only other major characters are the girls’ mother (Mare Winningham) and aunt (Mimi Kuzyk)–the characterizations are oddly vague, and the story, adapted by director Michael McGowan from a novel by Miriam Toews, keeps the sad news coming in a steady flow.  Pill and Gadon give strong, committed performances, in service of material that’s bleak without being insightful.  It doesn’t help that McGowan’s visual style tends to the antiseptic, or that there are barely any crumbs of humor along the way.  All My Puny Sorrows is a well-performed, heartfelt ordeal.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."