Petite Maman - Review (London Film Festival 2021)
I Come From the Path Behind You. 4 / 5
Directed by Céline Sciamma.
Eight-year-old Nelly has just lost her beloved grandmother and is helping her parents clean out her mother’s childhood home. One day her mother suddenly leaves. That is when Nelly meets a girl of her own age in the woods, building a treehouse.
Céline Sciamma has quickly risen to become one of my favourite directors after I discovered her work with Portrait of a Lady on Fire as a blind watch at the 2019 London Film Festival.
Petite Maman is a purposely much smaller and quieter piece, made during the pandemic as she goes back to her roots of delicate and intimate coming of age films.
As Nelly loses her grandmother and her mum leaves to grieve, we get swept up in childlike wonder as Nelly meets a younger version of her mum in the woods putting a unique and touching spin on grief and abandonment through the eyes of a child.
Clocking in at just 72 minutes, Petite Maman never overstays its welcome, focusing solely on the characters. Though you could technically say this could be a time travel film, it isn't interested in the how or why, nor past or future - the characters simply share a common space to help each other when they need it the most.
The performances by young sisters, Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz are impeccable and their unforeseen friendship brings such warmth to the screen despite the themes of loss and autumnal setting. Their naturalistic performances leave room for your own emotions, making it easily cathartic to impart your own experience onto this film.
That's what makes Petite Maman so comforting. It's not here to provide any answers but simply to lend a helping hand when you need it the most. Going from the grand scale of Portrait of a Lady on Fire to this only shows the talent and expertise Sciamma brings to all of her projects.