By Adam Ray Palmer
When the programme for 71st edition of the Berlinale was announced a few weeks ago, Céline Sciamma’s fifth film Petite Maman was the one on everyone’s lips.
Totalling at just 70 minutes in length; Petite Maman is the latest effort to showcase her incredible filmmaking talent.
Coming off the back of incredible critical acclaim, Céline Sciamma is back. In 2019, her near perfect Portrait of a Lady on Fire competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival with it eventually winning the award for Best Screenplay and also the Queer Palm, becoming the first film directed by a woman to win the award. So, taking part in the Berlinale for the second time, Céline Sciamma’s fifth feature has a big act to follow.
Petite Maman follows an eight-year-old girl named Nelly who has just lost her beloved grandmother and is helping her mother and father in cleaning out her mother’s childhood home. She explores the house and the neighbouring woodland where her mum, Marion, once played and built a treehouse that Nelly has heard so much about.
Then, one morning when Nelly awakes, she learns that her mum has suddenly left for no reasons explained. Nelly decides to continue to venture around the woods in her mother’s absence as she meets another girl of her own age, also building a treehouse – her name is Marion.
Céline Sciamma’s movie is one of delicate maturity. It’s fragile and innocent following the narrative through an eight-year-old’s eyes, but also has such intensity as Nelly quickly learns what it is like trying to find happiness. Joséphine Sanz’s performance as Nelly, and equally Gabrielle Sanz’s as Marion, are both impeccable debuts. They have such presence and believable naivety that the script sometimes feels whimsical like a fairy-tale fantasy.
The framing and stylish cinematography by Claire Mathon is beautifully welcoming, capping off a gorgeously made picture. It’s one of those films that you know exactly how this narrative will end, but you simply do not mind. You are on a journey with Nelly and the captivatingly, slow-paced storytelling is satisfyingly delivered.
As we watch the exploration of the important moment when a child transitions to adolescent-hood, it’s produced in such poetic fashion from the director. Sciamma is at the top of her game and Petite Maman shows just what elevation she can bring to a layered feature film. Céline constantly tackles the big questions in life, and so effortlessly charming me every time.
Cineroom’s rating: 5 stars
Petite Maman had its world premiere at the Berlinale on 3rd March 2021 and NEON has picked up the rights for a US release.