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Céline Sciamma: ‘I would love for someone to make this film into an anime’

The French maestro on how she’s matured as a filmmaker, and the secrets hidden in her beguiling latest, Petite Maman.

Céline Sciamma: “I would like someone to make this film an anime”

The French maestro on how she matured as a filmmaker and the secrets hidden in her alluring latest, Petite Maman.

Fftering from her internationally successful film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma returns to her roots with her fifth feature film, Petite Maman. Starring twin sisters Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz as daughter and mother Nelly and Marion, the film presents the principle of the time loop with naturalism and authenticity. It’s also a throwback to some of Sciamma’s usual themes: coming of age, grief and farewell, but also and most importantly the power of empathy through generations of women.

LWLies: Petite Maman opens up to Nelly’s point of view and we follow her closely. What was it like for you to come back to the attention of a child? Why does this worldview appeal to you?

Sciamma: I used to answer this question very differently on films with children because I was younger. I was doing coming of age stories because I was coming of age. When I started writing Little Mum, I realized that children are great characters, and it’s their perspective that I find appealing – the way they see the world. I wanted to give them all the credit as individuals and treat them exactly the same as adults. I think they work so well for cinema because they care a lot about them. A child’s questions can always be so much more unsettling and there is so much pressure because it is the greatest desire to know and to understand and to feel. Watching something is so important and the desire to understand someone is so important.

There is something refreshing about the way Nelly and Marion react to the surreal situation. Is their openness something you hope to inspire in the audience?

Yes, I want the film to be about the emotions of the audience and not the emotions of the characters. I want people to come out of the theater loving the film, obviously, but also loving the cinema. To convey that feeling, it must be a dialogue that is both heartwarming and unsettling. That’s when we love cinema, with everything in it, from costumes to music, it’s a small revolution. It makes you fall in love with the medium again. We have this cultural baggage that emphasizes rituals, especially with cinema, so when you pay more attention to young audiences, you leave more room and you are given poetry, children’s poetry. That’s why I keep referring to Hayao Miyazaki with this film because he makes international films, nobody questions the different layers. There are a lot of inventions and I think it’s because he also thinks of children.

Little Mum especially reminds me of My neighbor Totoro and you wrote for the animation with My Zucchini Life. Is this a form of cinema that you want to revisit?

I thought about the animation for Little Mum while I was promoting My Zucchini Life and I felt a lot of gratitude towards this movie for the way it made me grow as a screenwriter. I thought Little Mum would be a perfect animated movie because people would bring their kids. But then there’s the timescale for making an animated movie that’s not what I’m used to, and it’s not even a job that I can claim to have. I would like someone to make this movie an anime. I don’t really do screenwriting for other people anymore but it’s something I would love to do again if it was animation.

What did Josephine and Gabriele Sanz like to work with? Did they bring a lot of improvisation, because their performances are very authentic?

No, there was no improvisation at all. Except for the pancake scene, but even there there is a recipe! For me, the thing I ask is, “Do they get the idea or not?” If they don’t have the idea, it means it’s out. They champion ideas and their characters and we have to respect that when working with them. We didn’t rehearse at all. Most of our discussions before the shoot revolved around the costumes as I do the costume myself on my films, with the exception of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, of course. I do this because it’s the first part of the artistic direction of the whole movie when it comes to colors and lights. But it’s also to build relationships around the characters. With the girls, they learned the trade on the set, which essentially consists of learning to walk again. There are a lot of live interactions that create authenticity so it’s based on an idea that we share.

“When I think of childhood, I think of fall. Autumn feels like home. It is a very unstable and beautiful time to watch in nature.

The costumes seem timeless and it’s interesting that you used an original piece for “music from the future” at the end. Didn’t you want to tie the film to a specific time?

I wanted the film to be timeless. It’s time traveling without a machine so it’s very natural. The most difficult idea was that there were two houses and one should be older, but we kept it exactly the same. We haven’t aged the wallpaper or anything like that. It’s a time travel movie where the time you travel is the time you can be together, so it’s an opportunity to share the time.

I wanted the movie to be something that everyone can relate to in terms of genealogy, so I tried to make it reliable so that someone born in the 50s could totally have it. Marion’s sneakers are the ones that existed in 1955, when my mother was born. So someone who was a kid in the 60s and someone in 2021 can connect with the story. It means that there are 40-year-old women, adults, who go to the cinema, then go with their mother, are the child and then go with their own daughter. It’s the film’s utopia, I guess.

The use of objects in the film is part of this change of time, literalizing memory as tactile memories. Are there any objects that evoke strong memories?

Well, a lot of them are in the movie. Grandma’s cane is actually my real grandma’s, and some of her outfits are actually worn by the character in the movie. It was my first time working around a ghost; bringing someone back is one of the attractions of cinema. I had never tried this before and it is incredibly powerful. The first shot I made of grandmother was the real hallway at my grandmother’s. Suddenly you say ‘action’ and you hear that noise in that hallway and she appears and it’s amazing. It changes the love that is inside a picture, and it can be felt.

When I was writing the movie I was obsessed with the idea that we would feel our bodies differently and the logic no longer exists. I kept thinking of a mother and child going to see the movie and then they would go out and when they would run for the bus they would run differently together. That’s why I made the movie and why I wanted the movie to be short because I felt it was kind of a spell. You could do the trip several times and you could come back. It’s not how long the movie lasts, it’s how long the impact of the movie lasts. For me, watching the movie includes the night after. It’s an impact project and how it affects your dreams.

It’s interesting that you used Vivaldi’s “Summer” so evocatively in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Little Mum has such luscious fall imagery. What do these seasons mean to you?

When I think of childhood, I think of fall. Autumn feels like home. Portrait of a Lady on Fire was supposed to be devoted to fall, but it became a sort of summer movie, as all the exteriors were very sunny and we had to stick to natural lighting. So I still wanted my fall movie and this time it was a forest. But still, we had to bring thousands and thousands of fall leaves from elsewhere. There is also a morbid side to this color because something is already fading. It is a very unstable moment, beautiful to watch in nature.

Farewell is the emotional crux of this film and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Is it personal or something that you think lends itself to the ephemeral nature of cinema? Not wanting things to end?

I keep coming back to it, I guess I have to look this in the eye! For me, this is really the moment, not the end. These are small things because goodbyes are due. No one ever dies in my films, there is a “life goes on” spirit. My films try to console people. I always look at moments that are very contained in time, there is always a form of coming together and then we look at very small moments.

I loved the imagery of the black panther at the end of the bed; this symbol of mourning. Where did this image come from and what does it mean to you?

We shot this panther on the last day, it was the last shot in the movie. It was the most difficult thing to do because during the shooting, the props brought me different materials for the shadows. It was very primitive cinema. There is no CGI; this was done at the time. So there was this little kid’s room filled with fake leaves held up by fishing line and they were all dancing so the shadows were intriguing. It was a 12 person moment. It takes a lot of people to create a monster for real.

It’s a personal image, but I think the fact that it’s personal makes it also common. It’s about not telling children that monsters are only in their heads, that monsters are sometimes real. And they are human. I have tried to keep it as open as possible so that everyone can connect. No one else has asked me about it, I’m avoiding the real question … Sometimes the questions that no one asks you are the most disturbing. When you don’t want to talk about a scene, it’s normally because there’s a secret behind that you want to keep. It’s a movie secret.

Reference of the Article-post – lwlies