Petite Maman review — A tiny miracle of a movie

Written and Directed by Céline Sciamma | 72 min | ▲▲▲▲▲

A version of this review first appeared during coverage of the 2021 edition of the FIN: Atlantic International Film Festival. I chose it as the best film of 2021

This is a new work from the writer-director of Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, and as lovely as that film is I found this even more affecting.

It opens with a scene in a nursing home, where an eight-year-old girl walks from room to room, saying good-bye to the seniors living there. Her grandmother had been a resident, but she’s just passed.

The girl, Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), joins her mother (Nina Meurisse) at a house in the woods where they’re clearing up the grandmother’s personal effects.

Nelly spends the day exploring said woods where she meets another girl about the same age, Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). Though not explicitly discussed that day, Nelly starts to the understand that the other girl is actually her mother as a child — that when she’s out there she’s somehow able to travel back into the past.

But this isn’t science fiction, not exactly. It’s a fable, a simple and succinctly realized vision with a running time of an hour and 12 minutes.

The twin sisters in the leads are an absolute delight — maybe the best and least affected child performances I’ve seen since The Florida Project — and through them and the magic realist premise the film provides a simple, potent conversation about grief, growth, and generational inheritance.

It feels like a short film gently but sharply extended to almost full length, but without exhausting the cleverness of its concept. I was holding my breath watching it, hoping it wouldn’t put a foot wrong. It doesn’t.

Its release on this Mother’s Day weekend is kind of perfect. This is clearly the movie to take your mother to.

It’s not too often you encounter a near perfect film, where the execution utterly matches the ambition, but here’s one.

About the author

flawintheiris

Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.

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