LFF 2021: Petite Maman – Review

Release Date – 19th November 2021, Cert – U, Run-time – 1 hour 12 minutes, Director – Céline Sciamma

When her mum suddenly leaves one morning, eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) discovers Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), a young girl who looks exactly like her, in the woods outside of her late grandmother’s house, and her mum’s childhood home.

For my money Tideland is Terry Gilliam’s best film. It’s a view that in holding puts me in a very small minority. However, there’s something about the childlike perspective that Gilliam captures, pushing across the feeling of innocence that works really well and brings you into the world of creativity and imagination. I found this feeling arising again within writer-director Céline Sciamma’s latest, Petite Maman. As eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) explores the woods outside of her late grandmother’s house, building tree forts and briefly playing with a paddleball she comes across a young girl who looks exactly like her in the form of Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). Over the course of the short 72 minute run-time of the piece the two gradually form a close bond in the games they play and the conversations they have.

Dialogue is often relatively simplistic yet it manages to form a big impact in the light of the events that are going on in Nelly’s home life. While her mother (Nina Meurisse) and father (Stéphane Varupenne) are clearing out her recently-passed grandmother’s house her mum, also called Marion, suddenly leaves one morning, with dad claiming that she’ll be back soon. It’s made apparent that the younger Marion is the same as the one that Nelly knows as her mum, and soon her mind begins to piece together lessons about grief and emotion. Yet, the film never feels overbearing or forceful. Much like Nelly herself, or perhaps any other child, you gain the slightest pieces of information that develop overtime, and in your mind, without you overly realising. Adding to the emotional aspect of the piece and further putting you into the childlike exploration of the themes that the film handles so well.

It’s a feeling that’s expanded upon by not having any overall explanation as to the presence of the younger Marion. No major mystery or sci-fi links; it simply just is. It’s an acceptance that’s found with Nelly as she finds herself connecting to gradual unforced parallels in her own life while simply being able to just be free and play. Expressing herself and growing without realising. Even the viewer may not realise it as they’re taken on this open and personal journey. One that’s quiet, collected and gradual, knowing exactly where it’s going, even if the character’s don’t. And much of this is down to Sciamma’s carefully written dialogue and understanding of her characters – which she continues to demonstrate after her screenplays for the likes of the sensational Portrait Of A Lady On Fire and My Life As A Courgette.

There’s an overall childlike innocence to Petite Maman. It’s displayed in so many elements, not just the U rating, where you don’t truly realise the information that has been dropped in an absorbed until the more emotional, yet still quiet and collected, points in the latter stages of the short and effectively used run-time. Everything flows from the perspective of the young central figure as she simply plays and explores through playing and creating with her friend. Allowing the theme of friendship to be key to the film, explored deeply with simplicity and effectiveness that helps to bring you in to the film as a whole. One that on the surface is about the central friendship, and yet subtly provides you with detail and information, preparing you for a deeper, more thoughtful piece on grief through the eyes and mind of a child, whether for the child or adult, or both, in all of us.

Petite Maman’s detail is subtle yet effective. It comes through the play and imagination of the central friendship, pushing the theme of childlike innocence while allowing us to unknowingly absorb and store information, like a child, for a rounded and emotional conclusion.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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