Opening 17 Mar 2022
Petite Maman dips into the past and then stretches into the future in this charmant tale from French writer-director Céline Sciamma (Porträt einer jungen Frau in Flammen, 2019). The eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) says goodbye to her grandmother’s friends while her parents clear out grandma’s room, before driving to her home that also needs to be emptied. Once there, they unearth many of Mom’s (Nina Meurisse) childhood mementoes leading to a mother-daughter talk about how sad they feel since grandmother’s funeral. The next day, though, at breakfast Dad (Stéphane Varupenne) explains to Nelly that Mom left, but he will continue packing up and then they can leave. While exploring the autumnal hued forest Nelly meets the friendly, same-aged and more assured Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) building a tree-limb fort; she helps until a thunderstorm sends them running to Marion’s house. Looking around Nelly’s mystification turns to fear as she realizes Marion’s home is like grandma’s house, so she hastily leaves. But the next day Nelly returns and meets Marion’s mom (Margot Abascal) while savoring the easy naturalness of being with them. As the girls’ friendship deepens and they become confidants, their “acting” game takes on a whole new meaning.
Sciamma’s intriguing storyline is a mix of a parable and parallel lives lived on a planet that rotates at alternating speeds. Supporting this is the arrangement of sequences resembling vignettes that are underscored by cinematographer Claire Mathon’s flexible mood-adapting and nature-tinged camera shots and compositions. The Sanz real-life twins’ natural affinity breathes credibility into the film’s premise that the small cast strongly emanate; the girls give depth and boldness to moving across divides as a rite of passage, yet in one sequence revel in the carefree fun of making crêpes albeit with that adult determination this day will be perfect. While Julien Lacheray’s editing is thoughtfully paced, the sound design adds emotive depth particularly in the forest scenes, and Jean-Baptiste de Laubier’s careful, sparse music catches the expectations, sadness and maverick wonderment of this little journey through life’s personal and perplexing poignant relationships that reflect one’s linage. (Marinell Haegelin)