The Reel Review


A young French girl, sad that she didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her maternal grandmother who recently died, joins her parents at her grandmother’s house for the solemn task of cleaning it out. While there, she befriends a mysterious girl next door who looks curiously just like her, in this dramatic fantasy from French writer/director Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire).

Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz in Petite Maman.

Petite Maman is quite literally a surreal little film, with a runtime of just over an hour and ten minutes. Set to a colorful backdrop of rural France, its mysterious and unexplained elements of time-travel are treated as matter of fact. As the two girls get to know one another, there is a big reveal – only it’s really not all that surprising – the young actresses playing the girls, after all, are real life twins Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz and the title itself – French for “little mother” – also makes it pretty obvious what is going on. The girls, in their feature film debut, do a terrific job capturing the carefree abandonment and playfulness of childhood.

Gabrielle and Joséphine Sanz in Petite Maman.

Told in a very straightforward, childlike manner, the simple story is a unique exploration of childhood perspectives on love, grief, memories and child-parent relationships. It has some tender moments, despite some painfully slow pacing (particularly in the first half) that requires complete attention to appreciate the story’s many nuances. Petite Maman is a sweet movie that will linger with you afterwards, as you contemplate your own childhood perceptions of mortality and how your perceptions of your own parents have changed over time.


• In addition to writing and directing Petite Maman, Céline Sciamma also did the costuming for the film, just as she did for 2014’s Girlhood.

French film director Céline Sciamma.

• Sciamma wrote the screenplay for the 2017 Oscar-nominated animated film My Life as a Zucchini, about a group of orphaned children.

• Sciamma, who lost her own grandmother shortly after Petite Maman premiered at the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival, says as a child she enjoyed playing the pretend detective character that the girls play out in the film.


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