Petite Maman (2021)

November 11th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Celine Sciamma | Cast: Nina Meurisse, Margot Abascal, Josephine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Stephane Varupenne | Drama France, 72′

Petite Maman ia a haunting drama contemplating loss and longing through the eyes of two young girls.

Seeing things entirely from a child’s perspective French auteuse Celine Sciamma once again explores the subtle sensibilities of human dynamics with a cast of young performers (Gabrielle and Josephine Sanz) who are remarkably calm and detached in a wake of a family bereavement.

The director showed a keen appreciation of young minds in her 2011 film Tomboy. Here the focus is little Nelly and how she copes in the days after her grandma’s death as the rest of the family clears out the home that has become so familiar and comforting during the first years of her life.

Avoiding sentimentality Sciamma creates an atmosphere of placid ambiguity for most of this almost spellbound drama that sees solemn 8-year-old Nelly (Josephine Sanz) wondering into the nearby woods where she meets Marion (played by identical twin sister Gabrielle), the two striking up a tentative friendship as they build a tree house. There’s a touch of the twins in Kubrick’s The Shining about these children, with their chilly demeanour and distant, ambivalent gaze. But we are far removed from any horror story here in a style that is best described at fantastical realism.

Mature beyond her years Nelly views her bereft mother with emotional detachment, although she is very supportive and practical in other ways, doing chores around the house with her father (Varupenne) whom she regards with scepticism, ticking him off about his chain-smoking smoking. Sciamma gradually abandons enigma in the second half but also keeps us guessing as the story gradually unfolds in an eerie and suspended moment in time.

Building a gentle but restrained camaraderie throughout, the Sanz sisters give captivating debut performances as the confident but controlled friends. Meurisse is full of sensitivity as Nelly’s mother carrying her grief with a doleful dignity. MT




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