We were unsure whether Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ (2019) could be topped, but ‘Petite Maman’ is unlike anything we have seen before.
Céline Sciamma’s delicate take on grief exists as a modern masterpiece. She intricately unpacks the perplexities of loss faced by the inner child within us all. ‘Petite Maman’ magnifies the influence and beauty of other-worldly connections; namely the unspoken, unbreakable bond between mother and daughter.
The young Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), who has recently lost her beloved grandmother, is coming to terms with the concept of permanent goodbyes whilst observing her mother’s own experience of bereavement. Both find solace in the outlook and approach of one another. Nelly’s ingenuous and wistful disposition provides her mother with reassurance; whilst her mother shines a light on the passing of time and the fading of memory.
When Nelly stays at her grandmother's to help clear out her belongings, she retreats into her own world of curiosity and solitude. She ventures into the surrounding forests and meets Marion, played by Sanz’s twin sister (Gabrielle Sanz). This identical new companion shares Nelly’s mother’s name and lives in a frozen-in-time replica of her late grandmother’s house. In retracing the footsteps her mother once made, and with a sense of hopeful inquisitiveness, Nelly discovers that Marion embodies her mother as a child. With these generations overlapping and existing side-by-side, we are led into a magic realist world filled with a sense of simplistic wonder. The disruption of suffering is quelled by the strength of a connection like theirs.
Sciamma creates a narrative at the intersection of reality and otherworldliness with gentle precision. Both Nelly and Marion are continually learning from one another through opening their hearts and placing themselves within the feelings of loss and sorrow.