Tag Archives: Celine Sciamma

Petite Maman: TIFF 2021 Review

Year: 2021

Runtime: 70 minutes

Director/Writer: Celine Sciamma

Actors: Josephine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Margot Abascal, Nina Meurisse, Stephane Varupenne

By Joan Amenn

One of the hardest lessons a child can learn is the loss of a grandparent. Celine Sciamma, whose “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019) enraptured viewers two years ago, returns with an intimate and personal meditation on the cyclical nature of life.

Little Nelly (Josephine Sanz) has just lost her grandmother and accompanies her devastated mother (Nina Meurisse) to her childhood home to clean it out. The flotsam and jetsam of childhood drawings and lesson books are still lingering in a bedroom stuck in time. Time and continuity of life are the themes of “Petite Maman” but the film itself is (blessedly) brief.

In the forest behind grandma’s house that was a haven for her mother and where she plays, Nelly meets a new friend, Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). Uncannily identical to Nelly, Marion becomes inseparable from her as the two share confidences about their lives. Cinematographer Claire Mathon frames each shot like a Maurice Sendak picture book come to life and the most endearing scenes are of the two girls building a fort in the woods.

This magical realism comes to a screeching halt when the adults in the girls’ lives enter the narrative. Nelly’s father (Stephane Varupenne) and Marion’s mother (Margot Abascal) seem to be oblivious to the fact that the girls might pass for twins and don’t even venture to question where the other’s parents are. This lack of awareness takes the viewer out of the story and becomes a distraction from an otherwise touching allegory for the power of memory as a comfort in grief. Nina Meurisse as Nelly’s mother mysteriously disappears halfway through the story and although it is hinted that this is due to Nelly befriending a younger version of her, the time twist is not quite as convincing as it should be.

The performances of the sisters Sanz are quite charming but can be a little wooden in some scenes. The adults, especially Nelly’s mother, are all quietly grieving a loss of some kind, whether it is the loss of a parent, potential loss of a marriage or the looming loss of a child’s innocence as they face the trauma of major surgery. How each deal with this in relation to the girls could have been more strongly delineated in the script but it is still a moving story.

“Petite Maman” is not as powerfully heartbreaking as “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” but it is still a small treasure in how it talks about the enduring strength of love spanning generations. Worth a watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon in fall when the leaves just start to change color.

Retrospective Review: Girlhood (2014)

Year: 2014
Runtime: 113 minutes
Writer/Director: Céline Sciamma
Stars: Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh

By Nicole Ackman

In honor of Céline Sciamma’s birthday earlier in November, I decided to take a look back at her film “Girlhood.” The French coming-of-age drama, both written and directed by Sciamma, was released in 2014. It’s interesting to reflect on Sciamma’s previous films after the success of her “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” last year amongst critics and film fans. While many saw “Portrait” after seeing Sciamma’s other work, I had the opposite experience and this was a first time viewing for me.  “Girlhood” is a story about Marieme (Karidja Touré), a young black girl who lives in a poor suburb of Paris. She helps her single mother with her younger siblings and tries to keep her head down. One day, she is approached by three girls who wear matching jackets, gold jewelry, and straight hair who invite her to join their friend group. After seeing the attention they receive from boys, including the friend of her brother’s that she has a crush on, Marieme agrees to join them.  girlhood 2 Marieme, or Vic as she is later nicknamed by the girls, is a fascinating main character. She is gentle and kind with her younger sisters, but largely sullen and quiet before meeting the other girls. She struggles in school and is dismayed at being told she will have to attend vocational school instead of continuing onto high school. She also has to contend with her controlling and abusive older brother. However, her friendship with the girls and the fashion transformation she undergoes causes her to blossom. Eventually, she shows herself to be a strong and independent young woman. Touré is a fantastic lead actress, able to portray each facet of her personality equally well and give her plenty of depth.
“At first, it seems like “Girlhood” couldn’t be further from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” a period drama about a female artist and a wealthy young woman who fall in love. But on a deeper level, both films examine the intense bonds formed between girls.”
Sciamma has stated that in making this film, she wanted to represent the black teenage girls that are often left out of French films and that she saw living in Paris. The film explores themes of race, gender, and class in sensitive and genuine ways. For example, in one scene Marieme is followed around in a store by the white employee before her new friends confront her. It’s also remarkable to see a film whose main cast is largely composed of young black girls. girlhood 3 At first, it seems like “Girlhood” couldn’t be further from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” a period drama about a female artist and a wealthy young woman who fall in love. But on a deeper level, both films examine the intense bonds formed between girls. One of the most interesting things about “Girlhood” is the juxtaposition of the support and camaraderie between the friends and their fights and aggression with other gangs of girls. While they get into physical fights with other groups, one of the most memorable scenes in the film is Marieme’s group of friends dancing around a hotel room to Rihanna’s “Diamond.”  The use of music in the film, both its soundtrack and score, is very well done and the cinematography also stands out. “Girlhood” is a very unique film that gives the viewer much to reflect on about the experiences of young black girls in Paris. One thing is certain from watching it: Sciamma is a great director who is always able to tease fantastic performances out of her cast and who has that special something that elevates every film she makes.