Petite Maman (Berlinale review)

Petite Maman (Berlinale review)

Eight-year-old Nelly has just lost her beloved grandmother and is helping her parents clean out her mother’s childhood home. She explores the house and the surrounding woods where her mum, Marion, used to play and where she built the treehouse Nelly has heard so much about. One day her mother suddenly leaves. That is when Nelly meets a girl of her own age in the woods, building a treehouse. Her name is Marion, just like her mum.

Céline Sciamma is returning after the groundbreaking “Portrait of a woman on fire”. Petite Maman continues to build Sciamma’s style and exploration of mainly female characters from a unique perspective. This time though we don’t have a love story, but a combination of coming of age film, with philosophical extensions and a touch of sci-fi. It’s not a spoiler to say that the little Marion that Nelly meets is her mum when she was 8 years old, after all the title of the film is a reference to exactly this. The film doesn’t bother with the how this happened, hence don’t expect a “Back to the future” kind of film from the acclaimed French director. Instead, the core of the film lies on Nelly’s complain to her father that he never talks about when he was a kid. Or when he or her mum do, it’s not the important or sad stuff, their unique child experience.

The exploration of childhood and its fun, is mixed with sad or turbulent moments in the life of a child as a friendship between the two girls is developed. The film dives into the idea that we might understand our parents more, if we explore their childhood experiences and traumas. Hence it is touching psychological ground from the innocent eyes of a kid that just tries to understand the sadness of her mum.

The idea of the film is quite interesting and its execution is satisfying and adds nicely to what we know as the style of the director. The performances from the two little actresses, that are sisters in real life, are sweet and moving. The problem with the film though, is its limited runtime that doesn’t let us to explore more aspects of the characters, that feel heavily underdeveloped.

Grade: 2.5/5

by Céline Sciamma
with Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne, Margot Abascal
Country: France Year: 2021
Runtime: 72 minutes

Share on Social Media