top of page
  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Petite Maman' Review: Céline Sciamma's Wistful Exploration Of Daughters & Mothers

Joséphine and Gabrille Sanz carrying a lifeboat

Detective is on the case, looking into Coca-Cola factories, cereal, nights with forts and whether there are actually little mothers among us. Writer-director Céline Sciamma returns with a story mainly about two girls rather than two grown-up women in Petite Maman (same title used in France), though she isn't afraid to explore grown-up versions in this one either. We begin by getting introduced to 8-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) whose grandma (Margot Abascal) has passed away, later going to stay at her house for a while as Nelly's mom Marion (Nina Meurisse) and dad (Stéphane Varupenne) plan to clear it out. As Nelly roams around the surrounding areas where her mom did the same when growing up, she meets another 8-year-old girl named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), and they start to spend time together.

What felt like an important and crucial thing to do based on the first few scenes, was to remove myself from the experience as much as possible. While Claire Mathon's camera work and Sciamma's warm direction isn't much different here from their last collaboration, ''Petite's'' natural inclusion of fantasy and playfulness do suggest that the film will play much better for younger audiences with its campfire story-esque atmosphere. The script feels lively because it's almost as if a child used watercolours to enhance its storytelling; though overall visual aesthetic also has that quality when it comes to the beautiful colour grading on display. With that all in mind, while the beginning could've used that energy to pick up the pace a bit, the story never lets down anyone, no matter their age, because it does treat you as a thinking person rather than just a blank mind looking for momentary distraction.

None of this is to say that Petite's filmmaking takes the easy way out, because it certainly doesn't. Editor Julien Lacheray's carefully judged cuts not only take out excess that come with most child performances but they also move along the shifts from Nelly's world to Marion's and then back with great efficiency. Rhythm of the film is much more comedic later which helps to land some laughs when the girls are playing actors and detectives, making both Sanz sisters' performances really gel with Sciamma's heavier questioning of loss and bonds between mothers and their daughters, and what you might be leaving to your child once you exit the Earth. This interplay between the kids, as well as with Meurisse and Varupenne's characters, should be equally effective for both generations of a family in the audience.

Smileys: Editing, screenplay, tone, colouring, directing

Frowneys: Minor pacing flaws in the beginning

All the crepes were harmed during the production of this film.


After Misery's logo with the text ''all things film & television'' underneath it.
bottom of page