This film was previously reviewed in March 2021 as part of our Berlinale coverage.

Céline Sciamma has always excelled at bringing magic to the screen – even more so in her latest feature Petite Maman than her previous work. The film is a delicate and gentle exploration of childhood imagination and grief, in which the desire of its young protagonist Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) to connect with her mother Marion (Nina Meurisse) manifests in the most enchanting way.

In the midst of clearing out her girlhood home after the passing of her own mother, Marion departs without goodbyes. Nelly, struggling with her own grief for her beloved grandmother, finds solace in exploring the woods behind the house, retracing Marion’s childhood adventures. It’s there she discovers a girl her own age (Gabrielle Sanz) who shares more than just her mother’s name.

Bathed in the beautiful jewel tones of fall, skilfully captured by cinematographer Claire Mathon, the two girls share an immediate connection, soon echoing the closeness of sisters. For a handful of days, Nelly gets to know her mother at her own age, exchanging worries and joys at eye-level. In just 72 minutes of runtime, Petite Maman explores a great scope of emotions, formidably brought to life by its two lead actresses. The young Sanz sisters act with a maturity befitting much older people, and their increasingly similar looks add to the uncanny feeling of the film.

An explanation of the mystical merging of timelines is never given – and doesn’t need to be. The magic lies in the connection between the two girls, regardless of whether this is brought about by actual time travel or simply a product of Nelly’s imagination.

After the opulence of the historical drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Sciamma’s Petite Maman is masterfully stripped back to the bare essentials, making the tale all the more affecting. Heart-warming and sincere, the film is a true balm to the soul.



CAST: Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne, Margot Abascal

DIRECTOR: Céline Sciamma

WRITER: Céline Sciamma

SYNOPSIS: Nelly has just lost her grandmother and is helping her parents clean out her mother’s childhood home. She explores the house and the surrounding woods. One day she meets a girl her same age building a treehouse.