Petite Maman

Petite Maman

★★★★

Petite Maman a drama-fantasy film directed and written by Céline Sciamma and stars twins Joséphine Sanz and Gabrielle Sanz.

Josephine plays Nelly, a young girl who has just lost her grandmother and is accompanying her parents whilst they clear out her grandmother’s house. This is a house in the middle of a forest that carries a lot of memories for Nelly’s mother – this combined with her mother passing is an overwhelming event for her and leaves Nelly with her father for a few days. During this time, whilst Nelly is playing out in the woods, she meets a girl who is identical to her called Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) and they spend the next few days together in which they create a special bond and understanding which allows them both to move forward. It’s s complex relationship that also offers them an escape and a reminder that of what they do have.

The performances of Josephine and Gabrielle Sanz are unbelievably good. There are a handful of scenes that have an incredibly deep dialogue that is executed so well and adds an enormous emotional element to Petite Maman. Of course, it is also due to some high-level direction and fantastic script from Sciamma but the Sanz twins were remarkably impressive in this film and it wouldn’t have worked without them – quite a feat for such young actors.

The dialogue in Petite Maman is purposely stark and minimal – every word truly counts and adds value to the film. This script probably equates to about 20 minutes of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay but it’s integral in setting the tone to this film. I’m sure most people have been in an environment in which there is a potent amount of sadness in the atmosphere and this was accurately replicated in this film largely because of the minimal and moving script.

The direction follows a similar suit – there are long scenes with very few words exchanged however you can feel the bond grow between Nelly and Marion through their body language and the activities they partake in such as making pancakes or canoeing down a lake together – these devices reinforce the distinctive bond which is so central to this film. Petite Maman is a heart-breaking movie from the offset due to the grief the family are suffering – but there is a genuine heart-warming feeling this film gives off which is without a doubt a tear-jerker.

The film is wholly set in a cold and empty house which represents the loss the family are experiencing but the connections and bond between the people provide the warmth and comfort that relationships are the key to finding a way through to the other side. Petite Maman is a tale that is very moving and presents the lesson of how much bonds and relationships matter more than anything else.

There is deliberately no soundtrack/score which leaves a familiar void that loss/grief can bring. There is one short scene in which there is a typical French dance number and it does initially seem unsettling but this functions as an indication that Nelly and Marion have reached the point of acceptance and can now move on from the pain they have experienced hitherto.

The pinnacle of Nelly and Marion’s relationship is illustrated in a very emotional scene where it is obvious both characters have got what they’ve needed from their journey together. It’s incredible how much emotional impact this scene carries with so few words spoken. The sentiment in the delivery of the words of Nelly and Marion is subdued and again, this is intended, as it’s the atmosphere within the scene that does most of the talking and it’s quite ridiculous how Sciamma pulls that off so masterfully.

Céline Sciamma shows in this film that she is a very exciting and distinctive filmmaker that uses a wide range of methods to characterise the themes of the film. The script and direction alongside the superb performances from Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz make this an absolute must-watch. This is a foreign film with a small budget so it can easily be missed but I fully expect it to be nominated in the upcoming Academy Awards, it’s an unbelievably impressive film.

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