Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Petite Maman – charming, beautiful, and perhaps even profound (QFT until 2 December)

Is there a more perfect film than Petite Maman? 72 minutes of loveliness wrapped up in a time-travelling tale of inter-generational love and loss.

Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, Petite Maman tells its story of what happened when eight-year-old child Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) helped her parents clear out her dead grandmother’s home. Exploring the nearby woods, Nelly finds a half-built fort in the trees, and a little girl her age (Marion played by Gabrielle Sanz). As they spend time together, their lives turn out to be connected through time. To be told more would spoil the plot …

Filming everything from waist height quickly asserts that Nelly is at the heart of the story. We watch how a delightfully precocious child understands her mother’s mental health and childhood medical condition (Nina Meuriss), how she pieces together her family’s history and navigates around the gaps, how she deals with grief and her wish that she had said goodbye properly, and how she asks the most brilliant questions to the adults around her and speaks truth into the grief-struck atmosphere of sorting through ephemera and memories. “You don’t forget … you just don’t listen” she rebukes her father (Stéphane Varupenne).

Much is said without words. The children play in the woods with an instinctive understanding of what happens next. It could be a dream, it could be magic realism, but we settle into the understanding that for little Nelly it is the most regular thing in the world to walk across to the other side of the woods and find a very familiar house with a rather familiar family.

The understated ordinariness creates a beautiful world in which the cinema audience can inhabit. One which doesn’t require an emotional musical score to signpost how we should feel. Our imaginations fire off, wondering whether there will be tragedy, some dark twist that changes the passage of time. But Sciamma has a much more virtuous path for us to tread. Softly leading us through the leafy path from one house to the next, reminding us how little we know – or are told – about how and why are parents act as they do.

Petite Maman is charming, beautifully filmed and directed, and in its own way quite profound. It’s a big hug of a film and much recommended. You can catch it at Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 2 December


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