One of the most anticipated films that was shown at this year’s London Film Festival is Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman. A beautiful exploration of memory and home, the film follows Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) whose grandmother recently passed away. With her parents, Nelly spends time in her mother’s childhood home as they make the appropriate arrangements. When Nelly meets another girl who lives nearby, it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems and we delve into a tender story about family and memory all from the perspective of a child. The two girls build a tree house in the woods near their houses and a bond forms that makes it incredibly charming while also incorporating hints of magic realism without going too far off the ground.
The film is written and directed by Céline Sciamma who has become one of the leading female directors in France and with good reason. What makes Sciamma such a fantastic filmmaker is her ability to create such well-rounded female characters and use the camera as a way of showing the female perspective. With films such as Girlhood (2014) and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). In Petite Maman, Sciamma manages to create a world that feels magical without venturing into fantasy territory by ensuring that the film is grounded in its reality on a narrative level. Combining this with the childlike perspective adds an extra layer that allows the audience to see the magic in the banal things whether that is through the girls making their tree house or watching them make pancakes.
Leading the film are twins Joséphine Sanz who plays Nelly and Gabrielle Sanz who portrays Marion. Naturally, the girls make for a fantastic onscreen partnership and the genuine friendship and sisterhood they share in real life only helps to elevate the story even more. Despite their young age, both performances seem to have a depth and maturity that exceeds their years. As the lives of the characters seem to mirror and reflect one another, their lives become intertwined. Both Nelly and Marion are initially portrayed as lonely characters as they are both only children who don’t have a lot of friends their own age but together, they become pieces of the same puzzle and through spending time together, the characters begin to learn more about themselves.
In support, we see Nina Meurisse portray Nelly’s Mother and although her character isn’t in the film as much as you would initially think, there is a lot to unpack. Nelly’s Mother is a character tormented by her own grief and trauma all while trying to stay positive for her daughter. When staying in the childhood home, it’s clear that she struggles to cope with all the memories that the home has. Her absence is felt through the film as Nelly is forced into isolation before meeting Marion.
Petite Maman is one of the most tender and poignant films of the year thanks to its intricate glimpse of life through the eyes of a child. The wonderous direction and writing show just why Sciamma is one of the best filmmakers working today.
Petite Maman is showing at this year’s London Film Festival!