What is Petite Maman about?

Celine Sciamma is known for her portrayal of layered female characters and coming of age. Her newest film, Petite Maman, is no exception. The film follows eight-year-old Nelly, who’s coping with the death of her beloved grandmother. While her parents clean out her grandmother’s house, Nelly sparks a friendship with Marion. The two end up building a fort together in the woods. 

The story is rich and nuanced, exploring a multitude of complex themes and ideas in a deceptively simple package. From motherhood and nostalgia to grief and imagination, the film delves into universal topics in a way that feels raw and specific.

The acting

Nelly is the lens through which we see the world. The combination of Sciamma’s skillful, delicate direction and Joséphine Sanz’s masterful performance ground the film in truth and tenderness. Though the film deals with loss and mourning, by being rooted in a child’s perspective, Petite Maman manages to strike a welcomely hopeful tone. Distilling these heavy themes through our young protagonist shows that gentleness and play are highly effective tools for understanding complicated emotions.

The relationship between Nelly and Marion is at the heart of the film. Casting real-life twins Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz to inhabit these characters was an inspired choice. Their dynamic leaps off the screen. Both authentic and joyful, it’s impossible not to smile seeing them build a fort, put on a play, or dirty the kitchen while trying to make pancakes.

The adult performers bring just as much heart and genuineness. Nina Meurisse is a revelation, playing Nelly’s struggling mother with subtle strength and sadness. Stéphane Varupenne is a quiet force as Nelly’s dad, and his depiction of fatherhood is sensitive and refreshing.

The Cinematography

In addition to the performances, the cinematography is striking. The film is helmed by Claire Mathon, who previously worked with Sciamma on Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The movie is saturated in vibrant colors. Both the sprawling exterior shots of the woods in fall and the geometric, sometimes retro-like interiors work to create a sense of magic.

Bottom Line

Fans of Celine Sciamma are sure to delight in the beauty and power of Petite Maman. If you’re looking for a soft, heartwarming film that knows how to pack an emotional punch, you won’t be disappointed in this film. Petite Maman allows viewers to escape back into childhood for a while — and come out changed for the better.

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