Friday, November 17, 2023

Petite Maman


Written, costume designed, and directed by Celine Sciamma, Petite Maman is the story of a young girl who travels to her mother’s childhood home following the death of her grandmother where the girl meets another young girl as it plays into grief and a girl trying to understand who her mother is. The film is a fantasy drama that follows a young girl who tries to deal with her mother’s distraught state as well as make a discovery about this young girl she meets. Starring Josephine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Stephane Varupenne, and Margot Abascal. Petite Maman is a ravishing and intoxicating film from Celine Sciamma.

The film explores a young eight-year old girl who travels to her mother’s childhood home following the death of her beloved grandmother where she spends a lot of time in the woods where she meets a young girl who comes from another world. It is a film that explores grief as this young girl in Nelly (Josephine Sanz) travels to the home that her mother (Nina Meurisse) has lived in as a child as she is ravaged with grief where she would leave the house for a time leaving Nelly and Nelly’s father (Stephane Varupenne) to clean out the house. While spending time in the woods, Nelly meets a young girl in the same age named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) as they spend time playing and building a hut yet Nelly makes a discovery about the home that Marion lives in as it is similar to the home she and her dad are cleaning out. It adds not just a lot of intrigue into what Nelly is encountering but also to try and understand more about what her mother is going through as well as the similarities between her home and Marion’s home.

Celine Sciamma’s direction is mesmerizing for not just its simplicity and setting but also for telling a story in a 72-minute running time. Shot on location in areas near Cergy, France, Sciamma aims for something intimate in its overall presentation yet she would use some unique wide shots to play into the scope of some of the locations including a key scene late in the film as it would be the only scene in the film to also feature music. Yet, much of Sciamma’s direction emphasizes on close-ups and medium shots as it opens with Nelly helping an old woman with the crossword puzzle as she says goodbye to her and then saying goodbye to other old ladies in a single tracking shot that goes on for a few minutes until she and her mother leave an empty room. Sciamma does put in some unique visual styles yet would also do things that blur the line between reality and fiction as it relates to the house that Nelly’s mother used to live in as well as the home that Marion is in as there’s a lot of attention to detail in the way the hallway, rooms, and kitchen are shot.

Sciamma’s direction also maintains this air of minimalism throughout the film as it utilizes much of the same locations in every attention to detail including the rooms that both Nelly and Marion are staying in. Even in the clothes the two girls wear as they come from different periods as Sciamma is also the film’s costume designer where she brings a lot of detail into the clothes both of these girls wear. Even when they play as something else where it says a lot about these two girls where Nelly would meet Marion’s mother (Margot Abascal) who has a cane that is also similar to the one that Josephine’s grandmother had as it adds more intrigue. Notably as Sciamma does reveal things yet let everything play out as it also plays into Marion getting ready for an operation that would be prevent her from getting the illness that is ailing her mother. For Nelly, Sciamma manages to allow the character to gain an understanding of loss and why it affected her mother so deeply. Overall, Sciamma crafts an astonishingly tender and intoxicating film about an eight-year old girl dealing with loss by meeting another eight-year old girl from a mysterious world.

Cinematographer Claire Mathon does brilliant work with the film’s colorful and naturalistic cinematography as it utilizes natural lighting for many of the daytime exterior scenes in its autumn setting as well as its usage of low-key lights for some of the interior scenes at night. Editor Julien Lachery does excellent work with the film’s editing with its emphasis on being straightforward in knowing when to cut and when not to cut as there’s a lot of straight cuts with a few jump cuts in a few bits. Production designer Lionel Brison and set decorator Daniel Bevan do amazing work with the look of the house that Nelly’s grandmother lived in as well as the home that Marion lives in as there’s a lot of similarities and a lot of attention to detail in each room as it is a highlight of the film.

Sound editor Valerie Deloof does superb work with the sound in the sound as it plays into the natural elements of the locations as well as sparse sound effects in the film. The film’s music by Jean-Baptiste de Laubier in his Para One pseudonym is incredible for its lone synth-pop based music in one entire scene late into the film as it is this exhilarating and adventurous moment filled with wonder.

The casting by Christel Baras is remarkable as it feature a trio of notable small roles from Guylene Pean, Josee Schuller, and Flores Cardo as a trio of old women Nelly says goodbye to at a retirement home. Margo Abascal is terrific as Marion’s mother who often walks with a cane as she is fascinated by Nelly while also coping with her illness that she hopes Marion doesn’t get. Stephane Varupenne is fantastic as Nelly’s father who watches over her while her mother is gone as he does reveal why he and Nelly’s mother are reluctant to talk about their own childhood while there’s a great moment of the two bonding when Nelly helps her dad shave his beard off.

Nina Meurisse is excellent as Nelly’s mother as this woman who is coping with the loss of her mother as she is also distant where she leaves the home for some time as it plays into her own sense of melancholia. Finally, there’s the duo of real-life sisters Josephine and Gabrielle Sanz in tremendous performances in their respective roles as Nelly and Marion. The Sanz sisters both bring in this sense of whimsy as well as an innocence into their roles as eight-year old girls who are both dealing with recent events in their lives as with Josephine bringing a lot of curiosity as Nelly with Gabrielle providing a wonderment as Marion where the two radiate a natural chemistry with one another as they are a major highlight of the film.

Petite Maman is a spectacular film from Celine Sciamma. Featuring a great cast, a touching exploration of grief and a child’s understanding of loss, ravishing visuals, and its minimalist presentation. It is a film that isn’t just this enchanting yet heartfelt fantasy-drama but a look into the sense of loss and trying to figure out the world in an intimate setting that knows how to use its small running time. In the end, Petite Maman is a tremendous film from Celine Sciamma.

Celine Sciamma Films: (Water Lillies) – (Tomboy (2011 film)) – Girlhood (2014 film) - Portrait of a Lady on Fire

© thevoid99 2023


ruth said...

I LOVE this movie, it's in my top 10 best list of 2022. It's so enchanting and heartwrenching, the real-life sisters are absolutely astounding!

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-It's currently in my top 5 films of 2021 as it premiered at that year's Berlin Film Festival as it was just this quiet and lovely film that took full advantage of its short running time. I love it as I need the Criterion Blu-Ray and upgrade my DVD copy of Portrait of a Lady on Fire to Blu-Ray. I need to see Sciamma's first two films and a new short she did and I will have caught up to everything she's done.