TIFF 2021: Petite Maman

Image courtesy of TIFF

In the leafy childhood paradise of Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman, you’ll discover one girl’s journey to understanding and love.

Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) is an eight-year-old girl helping to pack up her recently deceased grandmother’s house. Nelly’s mother (Nina Meurisse) is sad because of the loss, and grief makes her distant. One morning, Nelly learns her mother has left for a spell. Alone with her kind but preoccupied father, Nelly explores the forest surrounding her grandmother’s home, where she meets another little girl named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), building a hut out of branches. Nelly helps Marion, and the girls quickly become friends, finding solace in their loneliness. Nelly is a comfort to Marion, who is due for surgery, and they become inseparable, and Nelly soon finds their bond goes much deeper than she expected.

Celine Sciamma broke my heart with Girlhood in 2014, and she makes it full again with Petite Maman. Even if she hasn’t passed on, missing one’s mother is such a deeply felt thing. Not connecting with the person that gave birth to you is trying, so to have a chance to find some understanding and friendship is a gift, allowing us to see our parents before they had a family, to see their dreams and fears before they were overshadowed by responsibilities. Sciamma captures this in such a simple way, without the distraction of a sentimental soundtrack. It’s just the actors, their surroundings and the emotions they will undoubtedly stir in the viewer as the story unfolds.

The child actors are siblings and give sober, mature performances that still capture the innocence of youth, immersing the audience in the nostalgia of being a child at play, making friends and living in a world of constant curiosity.

The emotional hits during Petite Maman will blindside you, but that’s not a bad thing. This sweet fantasy based on relationships, loss and vulnerability is sure to tug at many a heartstring, and it’s well worth it.

Check out the festival here.

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