A wonderful fairytale, moving, hopeful, touching and even heartbreaking, you could ramble on and on about just how fantastic Céline Sciamma‘s Petite Maman is, and you would not get tired. A simple yet perfectly executed film that is as honest and tender as you could dream a film to be.
Following her grandmother’s death, eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) travels to the grandmother’s home to help her parents pack everything up. However, after her mother Marion (Nina Meurisse) unexpectedly leaves, Nelly befriends a little girl in a nearby forest.
Sciamma has been on an incredible roll as a filmmaker for quite some time, and with her latest Petite Maman, that roll has no chance of slowing down just yet. If anything, it looks to be going faster and grander with each film. She has again deftly created a film to remember and one that allows us into the world of a young girl who is having to experience not only grief perhaps for the first time but having to experience what grief is like for adults.
It is best placed to know as little as possible going into the film, though for some, it will be straightforward to garner early into proceedings what is going on. However, instead of that being a detraction from the film, it turns out to be one of the strengths of Petite Maman. It is almost brazenly simple that the complexities it presents come to you in such a graceful and natural manner. There are no big reveals instead, it is all lovingly presented before you, and you can only admire it for that fact.
As always with such films like Petite Maman, the small moments stand out, be it the wonderful relationship between mother and daughter as Nelly feeds her mother as they begin their journey. Showing how although Marion is hurting over the loss of her mother, her daughter is there for her, even if it is just feeding her some snacks and juice. Or how Nelly says goodbye to everyone at her grandmothers nursing home. It feels real and pulls you carefully into this world that Sciamma has conjured.
Our two young stars of Petite Maman, like in so many other films with young stars over the past year or two, are remarkable. Their strengths as actors are for all to see on the screen, and without a doubt, they will cause you to smile and reminisce about your own childhood when you and your friends messed about and even the ones you found for only a short time. They are given plenty to do in Sciamma’s script, and with every challenge they are presented, they are able to leap over them without worry.
By not shying away from the difficulties of death and all of the emotions that it brings with us as children and as adults, we are able to relate in various manners. Still, the overwhelming theme of loneliness never leaves the film. Death does that, it separates us, even for a moment, from others around us, and as we see Nelly try and navigate that without her mother around, we see how she grows because of it. However, for all of the discussion of mourning and coming to terms with death here in the film, the main focus is also on the love a child has for their mother and vice versa. Marion can only guide her daughter so much through the loss of her grandmother and knows that she must find her own way of coming to terms with not getting the final goodbye that she desired so much.
What comes to you also is how bright the film is; the natural Autumn hue allows for our young actresses to be dressed in wonderfully loud and, most importantly, comfy, looking clothing that brings another sense of lightness to a film that is grappling some heavy themes. Couple this with the hazy cinematography from Claire Mathon that has us float along as if we really are in a fairytale, then we are left with a surprisingly warm picture.
Petite Maman is a film about a troubling time in anyone’s life, yet it is able to wrap you up in a cuddle and keep you safe and reassured. There is so much to love in those 72 minutes that you almost wish you could never leave the world that Céline Sciamma has made.
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