Petite Maman

DRAMA; 1hr 12min (French with subtitles)

STARRING: Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne, Margo Abascal

Twin souls: from left, Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz 

Telling lines etch the close bond between eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) and her mother, Marion (Meurisse), in the opening scenes of this moving reverie from film-maker Céline Sciamma, as the pair goes about the melancholy business of stripping Marion’s late mother’s room in an old folks home, then tackling the country house where Marion grew up. Nelly is a solemn child in whom you can already see the adult. Marion is a loving presence until suddenly she is gone, leaving Nelly alone with her seemingly unconcerned father (Varupenne).


The engine that drives Sciamma’s de-emphasised magic runs without fanfare, no matter what rabbits it has stashed up its sleeve. And so it is that while playing in the woods around her late grandmother’s house, when Nelly encounters her mother’s eight-year-old self (played with mirrored solemnity by Joséphine Sanz’s twin, Gabrielle), her meeting with the impossible fails to faze her. Young Marion and Nelly reflect the closeness of mother and child, becoming fast friends, building a wooden hut and hanging out in the house in which young Marion and her mother (Abascal) are living — the same house being cleaned out in another dimension by Nelly and her father.


When Nelly eventually confides to young Marion that she is, in fact, her future child, young Marion, too, is astonishingly calm. Could this be a no-nonsense French thing? Or maybe, like the lovers in Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), both girls intuitively get that their affinity is a fissure in their timeline; a breathing space of mystifying grace in which the limitations of logic have no place.