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Petite Maman: A story of childhood where imagination and reality are interwoven

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Joséphine Sanz (Nelly) and Gabrielle Sanz (Marion)

Petite Maman

Directed by Céline Sciamma,

In Cinemas From November 25

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

With her latest film “Petite Maman” director Céline Sciamma as in  her previous film “Portrait of a Woman on Fire” examines a surreal  and  sensitive  relationship, not between adults but between two children.

After the death of her grandmother, eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) helps her mother Marion (Nina Meurisse) and her father ( Stéphane Varupenne)   with clearing out her house in the country which is surrounded by woods.

Her mother who has told Nelly about the tree house she made in the woods as a child leaves for a few days during which time Nelly wanders the woods where she meets another young girl who is building a pyramidal shaped tree house.

This young girl Marion (Joséphine’s twin sister, Gabrielle Sanz). shares her mother’s name, Marion, and lives in a nearby house that is strangely similar to her  to her grandmother’s house.

The two children are at the core of the film and we observe a world belonging to them and their imagination. They develop a relationship in which imagination and reality are interwoven. Hinted at throughout the film are themes of innocence death, loss and  memory

The two children develop a sisterly relationship and play out a scenario in which  roles of mother and daughter are explored and where one of them is their future parent. The story takes on the sense of mythic tale, in which Nelly crosses paths with a ghost of her mother. The film dwelling on death, disruption and memory can be seen in the reflecting back on the three generations of  Nelly’s family and the forthcoming medical procedure that the child Marion is about to undergo .

This slightly surreal encounter is emphasised by the two children looking alike and the use of the same house used for the interior shots with slight changes of décor.

In one bizarre scene the children row a small boat on a lake where they encounter a concrete pyramid set in the middle of the lake (Axe Majeur near Paris) providing a sense that they have entered a time preserving structure.

The two Sanz sisters give extraordinary performances conveying the behaviours  and thoughts of children as well as displaying the maturity and sophistication of adults.

This slow moving, coming of age film brilliantly captures the lives of two children losing their innocence and growing in  emotional maturity.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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