by Nick L’Barrow
Following up her Oscar-winning filmmaking in 2019s Portrait of a Lady On Fire, French writer/director Celine Sciamma once again tells a truly compelling story of coping with grief and loss, this time through the lens of childhood innocence in Petite Maman.
Nelly (Josephine Sanz) is mourning the death of her grandmother as she travels with parents to clean out the house of her recently passed Grandma. Having to stay a few days at the house, Nelly begins to explore the woods that her own mother grew up in, not long before coming across another young girl, Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) whom she befriends.
At its core, Petite Maman is quiet a simple story, and at 72 minutes long, never once feels bloated by over-storytelling. The movie patiently unfolds over its runtime, using every minute to pace the story in a way that feels incredibly engaging. Exploring grief through a child’s lens isn’t an easy movie to make, however, the script treats the young characters with immense respect for their emotions and intelligence, as they understand and process the loss of family. Sciamma’s script wastes no time with exposition and filler, as every line of dialogue feels integral to the plot and can break your heart or make you smile with joy at any moment.
Most of the films joy comes through the stellar performances from Josephine and Gabrielle, who’s chemistry is fantastic, and their acting ability proves them to be up and coming actors to watch out for. Having to balance many emotions in the most subtle manner throughout wouldn’t be any easy task for a young actor, but both the leads flawlessly handle it.
Every single frame in this film means something to the characters and the story. This is a testament to the undeniable skill that Sciamma shows as a filmmaker. The cinematography is always eye catching, with the autumn season painting a picture-perfect setting for this heartwarming tale. Parallel imagery plays an important part to the overall film, and the crisp camerawork is truly like another character on screen.
Petite Maman is a flawless, patient and beautiful film. It’s heartwarming, heartbreaking, hilarious and moving. As the story unfolds, the emotional investment continues to grow before a final 15 minutes that will surely bring the happiest of tears to your eyes (as it did mine). Petite Maman, to me, is a perfect movie.
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