Céline Sciamma revisits the classic tale of coming of age on a loop with this sweet family fairy tale.
“Ois not born, but rather becomes a woman, ”wrote the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir in 1949. Seventy years later, her observation on gender identity remains true – and finds shape in Petite Maman, a sweet drama about the daughter of French writer / director Céline Sciamma.
It’s mostly set in a modest home, with a small cast that opts for subtlety, but it’s not a simple, traditional, or literal coming-of-age tale. By welcoming the benevolent shadow that hides behind Beauvoir’s quote – that is to say the adult who carries his childhood within him like a pearl – Petite Maman becomes a deep meditation on heritage.
Walking the corridors of a retirement home, bidding formal farewell to residents, Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) bears the curse of the gifted child: she is both knowledgeable and lonely beyond her eight years. Her grandmother has just died and her mother (Nina Meurisse) is elsewhere – emotionally, first, then geographically, leaving under the cover of night to analyze her grief without being seen. This leaves Nelly and her dad (Stéphane Varupenne) to pack Grandma’s house in the countryside.
While wandering in the woods, Nelly meets her double (played by Gabrielle Sanz, Joséphine’s twin). The kids are the same height, age, brown hair, and practical outfit, but Nelly’s new friend shares her mother’s name, Marion. Obviously, the little girl wanted to know her mother so much that she traveled through time to get there.
Petite Maman is enchanting, with a power beyond its fanciful premises. While it may read, on paper, like a disturbing fairy tale or sci-fi flight, the end product is steeped in pleasant naturalism. As in the author’s previous films, including Portrait of a Woman on Fire and Young Girl, the young women here seek their home in others and come to life in the absence of authority.
Nelly and Marion’s cheerful bond is most brilliant when they roam free – their mischief not tampered with by the watchful eye of a parent and reinforced by the effortless intimacy of the Sanz siblings. Peas in a pod, they sport the same unbalanced waddle and endearing smile, but even at its sweetest, Little Mum is never mushy. This is Sciamma, after all, whose body of work responds to the constraints of heteronormativity, gender performance, and normative social roles.
Curiously, Petite Maman tackles the subject askew, combing through the tangled curls of motherhood, obligation and destiny. But he knows growing pains last a lifetime – sometimes longer, if you inherit those from your ancestors – and promises to hold your hand throughout.
Reference of the Article-post – lwlies