Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Céline Sciamma
Screenwriter: Céline Scimma
Cast: Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne, Margot Abascal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/7/22
Opens: April 22, 2022

How much do you know about your parents’ childhoods? Are you curious about their daily affairs aside from their telling you that they liked pizza, played monopoly, and met during a stay in a summer resort? The Petite Maman of Céline Sciamma’s story is almost literally a “little mom,” because through smooth time travel, eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) acts as both her mother fifteen years ago and herself. The film is not done through the usual equipment of science fiction involving flashes of light and time machines but comes across in a naturalistic way. Few directors other than Céline Sciamma could have pulled this off without a hitch, having contributed such great entertainment as “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” where a painter plies her trade in eighteenth century Brittany by composing a portrait of a young woman. Even closer to the theme of this movie is her “Tomboy,” which has a ten-year-old girl taking on the role of a boy.

When Nelly loses her grandmother, she receives her first experience of death and regrets that she did not say goodbye—though she does greet and take leave of the surviving women of a nursing home. She is driven by her mother Marion to her grandmother’s house (filmed by Crystel Fournier in a woodland outside Paris) where her folks are clearing the departed woman’s digs. While Marion heads home almost immediately, Nelly is left with her dad (Stéphane Varupenne). Study her relationship with both parents and you realize that the apple does not fall far from the tree. Nelly is pure delight.

When Nelly meets Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), another eight-year-old in the neighborhood, Nelly (again with thorough naturalism) playing in both the past and the present, the audience perhaps baffled at first but then easily accepting Sciamma’s imaginative creativity. The two girls giggle, play a board game, laugh some more as they make pancakes in the morning before Marion is to go to the hospital for an operation. Marion must have quite an imagination herself, never doubting that her new friend is also her mom.

If Marion has any doubts that her friend is both her coeval and her mom, those are dispelled when Nelly hands over her headphone to let her friend listen to the music of the future. (Instead of wasting a minute with such gaming, why not tell Marion who’s the winner of the fifth race at the Hippodrome Paris Longchamp on March 2, 2021, and whether to invest in Brasserie Cameroun at the Paris Stock Exchange in 2022?)

Except for the moment that Nelly and Marion spit out the soup served by Marion’s mom, “Petite Maman” is one of those rare movies without conflict. The girls never argue, nor does Nelly have the slightest tiff with her easygoing dad and loving mom. Sciamma’s ease working with young girls puts her in the company this year of Laura Wandel whose “Playground” provides a scenario of elementary school bullying. A lovely, easygoing film thankfully free of the intrusive soundtrack melodies that would doubtless plague an American remake of “Petite Maman.”

In French with English subtitles.

73 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

Facebook Comments

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *