Following the success of the historical romance, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, writer/director Celine Sciamma returns with a moving tale of grief, love and childhood.
In Petite Maman, 8-year-old Nelly is mourning the recent loss of her maternal grandmother as she accompanies her parents to the home where her mother grew up. While clearing out the house, her mother, Marion, begins to reminisce about her early years and tells her daughter about her treehouse in the woods. One morning, the young girl wakes up to discover that her mother has suddenly left. Although she is concerned, the sad acceptance of her mother’s disappearance suggests that this isn’t an isolated incident. Shortly after, Nelly meets a young girl building a treehouse in the woods.
This quirky take on the time travel genre sees Nelly befriend her mother as a child, visiting an early incarnation of the house and spending time with her beloved, and previously deceased, grandmother. The time travel aspect is almost incidental and doesn’t interrupt the realistic narrative flow- when Nelly becomes aware of her new friend’s identity, she accepts the situation and fully embraces the friendship, seemingly untroubled by the blip in the laws of physics. Even when Marion learns that Nelly is her future daughter, her response is to pause momentarily and then roll with it.
The relationship between the two youngsters, played by real-life twins, is joyous. The scene where they’re making pancakes, giggling uncontrollably, will melt even the hardest of hearts. With both girls being only-children, their easy relationship blossoms with a familiarity more akin to siblings than friends. Crucially for Nelly, she learns that the melancholy air which surrounds her adult mother precedes her birth and likely has more to do with the hereditary illness which afflicted both Marion and her mother.
Petite Maman is an intimate film that is very personal to Sciamma. It was shot in her hometown and the ‘ghost’ of Nelly’s grandmother was inspired by Sciamma’s own maternal grandmother. The filmmaker also used to stage plays with her sister when they were children in the same way as the fictional girls.
This tender depiction of strong mother-daughter relationships across generations and through time is a thing of beauty and a sharp contrast to more familiar ‘whizz-bang’ cinematic fare. It’s a gentle movie that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.
Is Petite Maman suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
There are no scary moments, but this gentle look at mothers and daughters will be best enjoyed by older kids and teens rather than younger viewers.
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