★★★★★ - STUFF
- A wonderful joy from first to last frames, it's one of 2021's best -
Nelly is eight years old.
She is with her mum and dad as they travel to a house that was once Nelly’s mother’s childhood home. Nelly’s grandmother has died – and the family have come to spend the week clearing out the last corners of her life, emptying the cupboards and preparing the house to be sold.
Nelly is a bright and inquisitive girl. She asks her mum all sorts of questions about her years growing up in this house, of what happened and of what people were like, “when they were young”.
After a few days, Nelly meets another girl while out exploring in the woods near the house. Her name is Marion – the same as Nelly’s mother. And although they might not seem to even notice it at first, the two girls appear to be identical twins.
Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman is a joy from first frame to last. Over that lean seventy-two minutes, the film unfolds as a deft and compassionate meditation on time, parenthood, mortality and – especially – on those porous spaces and events when childhood seems to fold in on itself and become something that will indelibly mark itself on the adult.
And yet, Petite Maman is not just about memory and childhood.
This is also a film that dabbles in time-travel and parallel universes. It just does it in such a warmly observational and matter-of-fact way, you'll barely notice that Petite Maman has at least one foot in the world of Arrival, Donnie Darko and The Child In Time.
Sciamma is best known these days for Portrait of a Lady on Fire. But she made her bones with the trio Water-Lillies, Girlhood and Tomboy – all acute, honest, small-canvas portraits of girls and young women moving from childhood and into adolescence and adulthood.
Petite Maman plays like a kind-hearted and insightful prequel to those films. In the truest meaning of the word, this is a wonderful film – one of the year's very best.
Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
Petite Maman is now playing at Light House Cinema Petone & Cuba!