Movie #20 2022: Petite Maman (2021)

Ahhhh, that’s better. After a slew of 3 Q films, I’ve finally come across something exceptional. Of course, I’d expect no less of Céline Sciamma, who completely floored me when I saw it in 2020 with her near-perfect feature film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Indeed, Sciamma is becoming quite the force in French Cinema, and it’s quite astounding that neither of these movies have been in the running for Academy Awards. It’ll be one of the biggest farces in the history of the awards season if one of her films doesn’t win one of the big ones, to be honest.

Taking inspiration from Studio Ghibli, Petite Maman tells an almost fairy tale-like story of a young girl who has recently lost her grandmother. Whilst she and her parents look to clear out her grandmother’s house, eight year old Nelly begins to explore the scenery around her until one day she meets another girl of the same age playing in the woods. What seems like a normal friendship then turns out to be something much more than that.

Somehow this is only my second Céline Sciamma film, and although it’s not quite Portrait of a Lady on Fire, it’s still absolutely wonderful. 

We’ve all thought about what our parents were like when they were young, right? That idea makes Petite Maman instantly relatable to almost all audiences, and that’s where the magic lies for me. Sciamma – ever the storyteller – manages to make the whole thing so believable even though it’s physically impossible, and she does that by making everything so understated. There are no special effects and no explanations, and that’s what makes it all so alluring and whimsical. 

It’s really difficult to review this film, actually. There’s just a clean purity to the entire thing that makes it such a joy to watch; it’s all about the characters and what connects them and it’s certainly not about any fancy filmmaking techniques or over-complicated sets. What does stand out though is Sciamma’s use of natural scenery and the way she frames everything so beautifully. But we all knew that was going to be the case.

Alongside a heartwarming story and some aesthetically pleasing shots, Petite Maman showcases two young actors in their first ever roles. Though neither girl does anything overly flashy or extravagant, one can’t help but feel as though they knew exactly what they were doing, and that’s most likely down to some very precise and specific directing. Both the writing of the dialogue (or lack of dialogue) and the film’s exploration into grief is outstanding, and it would not have had the same impact were these girls to have failed in doing their jobs with such clarity.

On top of everything, THIS MOVIE IS SO SHORT. (72 minutes?! The dream.) It didn’t need to be any longer, and it’s refreshing to see a director recognise that. Though it didn’t hit me so profoundly in the same way that Portrait did, this is once again some highly admirable filmmaking from this director and I can’t wait to see more.

Petite Maman is available to stream on MUBI in the UK.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½

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