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#TIFF21 Review: Petite Maman (Special Presentations)

September 9, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

There was always some question as to how French filmmaker Céline Sciamma would follow up her acclaimed 2019 film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which has been lauded by many as one of the finest films of the past decade. Now we have the answer with Petite Maman, a charming family film that couldn’t be more different in terms of tone and scope, but is pretty magical in its own right.

The film follows an 8-year-old girl named Nelly (Joséphine Sanz). Her grandmother has just passed away, and she is helping her parents (Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne) clean out grandma’s old house in the countryside. When Nelly ventures into the woods to explore her mother’s old tree fort, she encounters another young girl her age there named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). From here, the film takes a wonderful, magical realist turn.

Sciamma brings a kindness and gentleness to Petite Maman, crafting something that feels like a live action version of a Studio Ghibli movie, which is no small feat. The film unfolds with an enchanted, fairy tale quality, while also exploring some poignant themes about saying goodbye, the passage of time, and reconnecting with parents on a different level. It takes place in a sort of limbo free from technology, and could be set any time in the past few decades, which adds to the timeless quality of the story.

As we already know from Sciamma’s early gem Tomboy, she has a gift for working with child actors. The filmmaker gets naturalistic and believable performances out of her two young stars here, Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz, real life sisters who have some adorable interplay together. The film also features crisp photography by Portrait cinematographer Claire Mathon, leaning into the fall tones of the film’s autumn backdrop, and highlighting the rich colours of the leaves on the ground.

At only 70 minutes long, Petite Maman is a lovely and touching little film that feels like something audiences of any age can get something out of and return to over the years, finding new depth in the story the older you get.

Public Screenings:

Thursday, September 9th – 9:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

Thursday, September 9th – 9:00 PM at Ontario Place West Island Open Air Cinema

Tuesday, September 14th – 1:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

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