Petite Maman

Bit of a cliche to call a film a gem, but Celine Sciamma’s Petite Mama fits that description so perfectly, practically illustrating the critical shorthand.

It’s a small picture in size and frame, but vast in emotional scope and themes, probing the deepest recesses of motherhood, childhood, grief, longing and regret and, of course, love.

You might call it a ghost story – a little, lonely eight year old girl (Nelly) visiting her dead grandma’s house, comes across a twin version of herself in the woods and briefly enters a parallel reality in which she realises the other little girl (Marion) is her own mother at the same age.

What’s remarkable is that this never feels strained or confusing in Sciamma’s crystal clear direction. It’s unsettling, yes, eerie, too but never jarring. Like the Nelly herself, we play along with the conceit in all its loveliness and all its possibilities. Would you like your parents if they were the same age as you? Would you be their friend? What was your Mum or Dad scared of when they were little?

Sciamma’s control of tone is consummate, the playing and the set full of relatable little details to create a mood that’s both warm and chilling at the same moment.

Petite Mama is a little marvel.

You can listen to my interview with Celine Sciamma here