Review by Adam Donato
The acclaimed director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma, continues her hot streak by writing and directing Petite Maman. In the film, Josephine Sanz plays a little girl named Nelly who moves into her grandmother's old home to clean the place out. As she struggles with her grief, she explores the grounds and finds another girl her age building a treehouse in the woods. This French film was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language. But just how good is Sciamma’s latest picture?
Petite Maman is such a sweet and genuine movie. It's a very depressing subject matter, but seeing it through the eyes of a child allows for moments of happiness as she is easily distracted by exploring this new place. Where this movie shines brightest is through Nelly’s relationship with Marion, played by Gabrielle Sanz. Their conversations about her feelings toward her situation are so vulnerable and real. As the girls learn more about each other, they realize how much they have in common, and this connection is certainly the heart of the movie. Child actors usually aren’t the best, but this movie makes it the crowning achievement of this story. The kids are so natural and full of personality, making it very hard not to care about them.
The runtime is a crisp hour and twelve minutes, so nothing is dragged out. The movie is over before you know it, without sacrificing any of the substance. The third act is where the movie really shines. Once the realization of the story kicks in, the audience is launched into this blissful fantasy land that is as divine as it is grounded. This movie is like Bridge to Terabithia, but without any of the magical creatures. While it is a sad movie, this is definitely a movie that is suitable for the whole family with themes that are poignant for all ages. It's an easy watch and is sure to satisfy all audiences.
Sciamma has certainly cemented herself as one of the premiere independent filmmakers working today. Petite Maman may not gain a cult following like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but it’s sure to keep the momentum of her career going forward. It will be interesting to see what she does next. Petite Maman is comfort food for the soul and is sure to leave hearts warm. NEON absolutely outdid themselves with their film slate in 2021 and this is a proud entry in their catalog for the year.
Petite Maman hits theaters on April 22.