Petite Maman (DVD) – Movie Review
Follow Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Director: Céline Sciamma
Distributor: Cinéart
Duration: 72 minutes

Petite Maman (DVD) – Movie Review

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Good: Great cinematography, Nostalgic feel
Bad: No bonus features, Too slow at times
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Petite Maman (literally translated as Little Mom for any English-speaking country) is a French movie written and directed by Céline Sciamma, that first debuted at the 71st Berlin International Film Festival this year. Sciamma is well-known for her previous works, which all seem to have common themes of femininity, gender fluidity, and the life experience of young girls. Both Tomboy and Portrait of a Lady on Fire stood out and received many awards, and it’s not surprising that if those previous movies were your cup of tea, Petite Maman will not disappoint.

The story centers around Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), a nine-year-old girl who travels with her family to her mother’s childhood home after her grandmother dies. They will stay there for a couple of days so the family can take care of any needed arrangements. The passing of her own parent has made Nelly’s mother (Nina Meurisse) understandably emotional, and the two find themselves having a harder time communicating or understanding each other’s feelings. To get away from the house for a little while, Nelly starts playing in the nearby woods, where she meets another girl of the same age named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). Strangely, Nelly quickly discovers that going into the woods will allow her to travel back in time and that the Marion she met there is actually Nelly’s own mother when she was a child. What starts then is an interesting exploration of what Marion was like before growing up and having kids of her own, and how different she is from the mother Nelly has come to know.

Petite Maman is certainly what we can call an Art House movie. There’s only a handful of characters, and the scenery is limited to the (admittedly very pretty) forest surrounding the grandmother’s house, and the house itself. Sciamma knows how to make a movie look pretty in terms of framing and cinematography, but there isn’t a lot of dialogue or conflict to keep you interested. Rather, you are expected to be swept along in its childlike and innocent view of the world. This movie thrives on simplicity, and that’s perhaps the reason why its runtime is considerably shorter than most movies these days.

Whether this is enough to keep you entertained is a subjective matter. Maybe this movie is best reserved for a quiet night in when you’re fine being taken along into what is half fairy tale and half ghost story. Petite Maman holds a certain type of nostalgia, also because the story itself explores how different people are when they are children compared to the adults the harshness of the real world will shape them into.

What can be said is that the acting is on point. Child actors do not have the best reputation – being both difficult to work with according to most directors, and their inexperience at the job meaning their acting can be amateurish at best. Nonetheless, this movie chooses wisely by having twin sisters in the roles of Nelly and Marion. Not only does it work because the actors look like each other – and thus it makes it much easier to believe these characters are mother and daughter – but they also play really well off each other. The adult actors also put down a nice, solid performance.

The DVD release of Petite Maman comes with no bonus features, which feels like a missed opportunity. Perhaps this choice was influenced by the movie being made during the pandemic. The movie is only available with French audio with subtitles, which might be something to keep in mind.


Once again Sciamma has managed to make a film that portrays a lot of relatable emotions. Whether it’s the way death can shake up a family’s foundations and makes you question your own life’s choices, or the innocence and wonder with which a child views the world, it’s impossible to watch this movie and not feel something. That being said, if they had tried to wring it out to a full two-hour feature, certainly it would have become a tedious watch. Luckily, as it is now, this movie knows where to start the story, and where to end it.

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