In Céline Sciamma‘s Petite Maman, eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) is grieving the loss of her grandmother while her parents clear out her home. It’s the same home that Nelly’s own mother, Marion, grew up in. It is there where Nelly meets a girl, also eight, in the woods building a treehouse. A simple enough premise for a simple enough film, but there is definitely more going on than first meets the eye.
The innocence of a child and value of friendship is expressed in its truest, most pure form here. The crisp cinematography is immaculate, emphasizing the brilliance of nature, bringing the sunlight inside, and the texture of endless fuzzy sweaters. With spare but impactful dialogue, this reserved story feels relatable.
I went into this film relatively blind. For months, all I’ve known it as is the still shared everywhere showing two young girls looking at a pile of sticks and leaves in the woods. I knew it was titled Petite Maman, I knew it was directed by Céline Sciamma, and I knew I wanted to see it. I think that is part of why I fell so in love with it; the surprise of it all.
The cinematography is (unsurprisingly) amazing here. The orange and yellow foliage makes for such a crisp backdrop to this tender story. Even when we’re inside, the deep browns of the hardwood tables and the fuzziness of their sweaters. The playful use of the sunlight to frame shots or add emphasis to certain areas works with the other components to bring in nature even while we’re inside.
The dialogue is sparse but impactful, especially between the main two child actresses (Joséphine Sanz and Gabrielle Sanz, who are absolutely incredible actresses, especially for their extremely young age). The exchanges they share exemplify the exact types of conversations new friends have. It’s quiet and reserved, and that’s alright.
Another reason that Petite Maman feels so bare and honest is because it’s delivered without the use of any music (except for one song near the film’s end), or even a musical score for that matter. Seeing that you’re reading Music News & Rumors who analyzes music in film and TV, you’d think that would turn me away from a movie, but it didn’t. Frankly, I don’t want every movie to be entirely music-less, but it worked for the most part.
This is intimate and thoughtful, and it takes you back to being an eight-year-old when things seemed so complicated but were truly so simple. Embracing that simplicity through the struggles of grief and fear, our two main characters help each other through each of their own conflicts.