Petite Maman (U): A loving look at female family relationships

A heartwarming film about family relationships, Petite Maman is sure to be a film that viewers relate too

Harriet Shaw
1st December 2021
Image Credit: IMDB
Céline Sciamma is a director known for her work in LGBTQ+ cinema, the first female director to win the Queer Palm at Cannes for Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). Her fifth feature film focuses on women and familial relationships, blurring the lines between family and friendship.

The film’s protagonist, Nelly, meets younger versions of her mother and grandmother, and in doing so, morphs the relationship she has with the two women. Petite Maman elevates the female gaze when considering the family structure. Nelly is able to greet her late grandmother and form a bond with her mother who has been suffering from depression, partially due to her recent loss.

Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz... Image credit: IMDB

The film stars Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz, sisters and young child actors. Indeed, their casting really makes the film as their genuine affection for each other translates well onto the screen.

Petite Maman rejects the notion that relationships are static, or have to suit the patriarchal norm, as relationships are reimagined through friendship. Nelly's relationship with her younger grandmother mimics the kind of relationship she has with women in the care home at the start of the film. The two meet again, unaware of who the other is, and are able to replicate a sisterly bond.

The editing is beautiful, with scenes seamlessly transitioning into one another, with lively juxtaposition from quiet, thoughtful scenes to energetic, playful sequences.

In an interview, Sciamma said, when discussing the mother-daughter bond "...through fiction, through time-travel, we can do it from a place of equality." Indeed, the film empowers the viewer to consider their own relationships with their mother. That is not to say that there are no men in the movie. Nelly's father takes on the caring duties when her present-day mother leaves, and encourages her new friendship. 

The film itself is aglow with autumnal hues. The premise revolves around a fort in the woods that seems to connect the past and the present. The editing is beautiful, with scenes seamlessly transitioning into one another, with lively juxtaposition from quiet, thoughtful scenes to energetic, playful sequences.

The film is accessible to non-French speakers as the dialogue is natural and to the point, whilst maintaining a charming degree of wit. The love language most present in Petite Maman is service, which requires no translation. Nelly feeds her mother snacks in the car, and in return her mother cradles her to sleep. The mourning process that catalysts the film is a universal experience that most cinema-goers can relate to.

Rating: 4.5/5

Video Credit: Madman Films
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