Petite Maman ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali
Nelly has just lost her grandmother and is helping her parents clean out her mother’s childhood home. She explores the house and the surrounding woods. One day she meets a girl her same age building a treehouse. Out on 18 February on Mubi.
Nominated for a BAFTA for best foreign language film, Petite Maman is a beautifully delicate meditation on grief, loss and motherhood, masked as a kind of magic fairy tale, seen through the eyes of a child… with a time travel twists to it.
I was reminded of an old episode from the classic Twilight Zone (how l loved some of those old stories), where two people were able to speak to each other across several decades. Similarly here a child, Nelly, finds herself face to face with another young girl of her own age, Marion, who will soon turn out to be her own future mother.
Don’t worry about spoilers here and don’t be misled by the slightly sci-fi plot, director Celine Sciamma is not really interested in the mechanics of time travelling, nor she is questioning how it is at all possible. In fact it’s all laid out as if this was the most natural encounter, exactly as children would see an event like this.
This is no Back to the Future; what Sciamma focuses on is the emotional journey of Nelly and her mother, as they are both dealing with the loss of their grandmother / mother.
Sciamma had already shown us her great skills in directing children with her delightful Tomboy (2011) and in writing about children with the little masterpiece in animation My Life as an Aubergine (2017).
Here the two young stars, Josephine and Gabriel Sanz, who are in fact twins in real life, are so wonderfully natural that at times it feels like the camera was running in the background and it just happened to capture some of their raw emotions, particularly their laughter. A scene where the two are making pancakes in a kitchen is a case in point.
The pace of the film is deliberately quite slow and very naturalistic (virtually no music, aside from one scene), which might be a bit trying for some people, but it does add to the feeling of serenity and poignancy throughout.
It is a sweet little film which might be small in scale and length (only 72 minutes! Hooray!) but it carries great depth and warmth.
Having said all that, by resisting all the usual film-makers tricks and by trying to be as un-manipulative and as subtle as possible, despite some beautiful moments throughout, the film was to me slightly held back from delivering the real emotional punch that I was hoping for.
In the end it was probably a little bit too gentle to leave any long-lasting impact on me.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.
Petite Maman is out on 18 February on Mubi.
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