Film review: Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman

Twin sisters Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz star in Petite Maman

Twin sisters Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz star in Petite Maman - Credit: Lilies Films

Anyone who has seen the remarkable Portrait of a Lady on Fire will attest to the fact that writer-director Céline Sciamma is a prodigious talent. With Petite Maman she delivers a smaller, but no less powerful, film that examines the beautiful, complex bond between mothers and daughters.

With her grandmother having just passed away, eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) is helping her parents clear out her mother’s family home in the countryside. To escape the tension in the household, she heads into the woodlands behind the house to play, explore and find a hut her mom built when she was a child. When she happens upon Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), a girl of similar age, Nelly is delighted to have a new friend. Her excitement turns to confusion, though, when she’s invited back to Marion’s home and discovers it’s almost a carbon copy of her mother’s old house. 

Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) meets Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) in the woodlands behind her house in Petite Maman

Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) meets Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) in the woodlands behind her house - Credit: Lilies Films

In lesser skilled hands the main plot twist in Petit Maman would have seemed contrived. Such is Sciamma’s lightness of touch, though, the storyline remains captivating and moving as the incurably curious Nelly finds out more about her mother and her grandmother. The casting here is on point with twin sisters Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz having the sort of chemistry you only get with real siblings. A scene where the pair descend into fits of giggles as they try and make crepes is perhaps the most heartwarming moment in a film packed with them.

Short but perfectly formed, Petite Maman sees a top filmmaker at the height of her powers. 

Starring: Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz 
Director: Céline Sciamma 
Certificate: U 
Running time: 72 minutes 
Petite Maman was released in cinemas on 19 November, DVD release date TBC