October 18, 2021

VIFF 2021 | Back to the Past – 'Petite Maman' Makes Friends

"I'm glad we met."
Joséphine & Gabrielle Sanz Céline Sciamma | Petite Maman | VIFF 2021
Vancouver International Film Festival
VIFF 2021—French filmmaker Céline Sciamma crafts a beautifully poignant slice of life love letter to mother/daughter relationships in her cinematic children's fable, Petite Maman. Filmed with minimal sets, locations, and actors for a scant but very fruitful 72-minute running time, the film is quite possibly the sweetest tale of childhood wonder ever with its balance of adult themes like grief and loss.

Starring eight-year-old twin sisters, Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz (both equally adorable) as Nelly and Marion, who become fast friends when it's discovered Nelly has somehow met her own mother at her current age when she plays in the woods behind her beloved grandmother's country house after her death. Despite the premise suggesting hints of supernatural or light sci-fi touches of time travelling and meeting younger versions of present-day characters (think Back to the Future with kids), it's a refreshingly simple and basic story of children learning to understand adult feelings.

Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne co-star as Nelly's adult mother and father in the present. They offer subtle performances of gentle parenting. Scenes where they casually interact with their daughter feel so genuinely naturalistic in the momentary ordinariness. How Sciamma through Sanz shows a child's first experience of death is pitch-perfect in its mixture of confused curiosity and weary acceptance.

It's such a sweet yet surreal rumination on grief while expressing a young age when you start to become aware of your parents as independent people with their own lives, feelings, and past. Petite Maman is such a winning film capturing authentic moments of everyday wonder through its depiction of childhood, emotions, and complex feelings.

Petite Maman screened as the closing film of the 2021 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Contemporary World Cinema series.

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