I’ll admit that I’m biased here. In my eyes, Céline Sciamma simply doesn’t miss. Everything I’ve seen from the auteur is something that I find to be some mixture of compelling and technically astute. And importantly, deeply felt. There’s a sensation that comes with every one of her films that I can only describe as the sensation of being punch-drunk on feeling.
Petite Maman is no exception to that rule. What’s interesting about this film, however, is that it returns explicitly to the realm of childhood after the departure to a younger adulthood in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This one centers around an eight-year-old named Nelly (Joésphine Sanz), mere days after the death of her beloved grandmother. As a result, Nelly heads out into the provincial French countryside to help clean out her mother’s childhood home. There, Nelly meets Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), a girl about the same age, who is in the process of building her own world.
Sciamma’s technique has always been intentional, particularly in regards to her composition of the frame. Once again, this is no exception, as Sciamma situates her camera an arm’s length behind Nelly and her world. Impressively, Petite Maman feels like fall in all of its bittersweet glory. There’s a really fascinating trick that she pulls throughout this film, which is clearly a representation of grief, and yet, also manages to be strangely hopeful. The right word might be empathetic, another piece of such empathy from one of cinema’s brightest voices.