Petite Maman; Grade: C+
Petite Maman tells a story about a young girl named Nelly (Josephine Sanz) whom just lost her grandmother. So Nelly travels down to her mother’s old childhood home, to where they’ll be clearing out the house. While they do so: Nelly will come across an unexpected visitor, in which will help discover her mother’s past childhood, to what sort of fun she had while living in this ole house in terms of making a hut in the woods and such.
Petite Maman is riding off the success of film maker Celine Sciamma’s previous film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which I also really liked as well. This film started production in 2020, so I assume Sciamma wanted to make a film that was simple, easy, and to be made quick to where it can be shot with a limited cast and a limited amount of time due to of course The Pain in the Ass. Which makes sense of the very short one hour and twelve minute run time, which you don’t normally see a 70+ minute feature length film too often now a days in cinema.
Surprisingly enough Petite Maman is getting a TON of critical praise and such. I say surprisingly because as a follow up to Portrait of a Lady on Fire… I thought this was actually a let down for me, but not a major let down, I just quite don’t understand the hype around it.
I liked the whole concept at hand, felt like a personal yet relatable story at hand. Like the whole dynamic of a young girl revisiting their mothers childhood home, in which the young girl would like to know more about her mother’s past and what life was like when they were a child. But considering the mother is not only busy with clearing the house but also going through grieving of her own losing her mother and all: The young girl isn’t given the opportunity to learn about her mothers history in this house and what goes on the outside, as her mother just isn’t open to sharing during this period of time.
So that’s where the “Fantasy” part of the film presents itself, of the young girl being acquainted with a younger version of her mother Marion (Gabreille Manz). From there on Nelly gets the rightful opportunity to where she can learn all about how her mother grew up in this house, what she did out in the woods, how to build a hut, and explore the activities she used to do as a child. Honestly the best sequence for me at least is when the two girls went out canoeing, as they row towards a pyramid like figure. That whole sequence was thoroughly entertaining, wholesome, and actually compliments the whole fantasy side of this story.
The main problem I have with Petite Maman is the fact this film lacks Adventure and Fantasy, as there isn’t a whole lot of fun going on here. Like this film NEEDED more sequences like the canoe sequence, where Nelly does go on an adventure to not only explore what her mother did as a young girl, but to also go inside the mind of what she was like as a young girl too. This film doesn’t necessarily need to be Epic with CGI animals and such, but this film NEEDS to provide something with regards in entertaining the audience, as to be honest majority of the sequences lacked a great amount of fun, which I felt was a missed opportunity.
Another problem I have with this film is why doesn’t this film actually establish more with Nelly revisiting her grandmother when she was younger?! The film could’ve been more wholesome if Nelly were to learn more about her, but more so be given the opportunity to spend more time with a loved one, in which she did say she wished her last goodbye to her was said correctly.
As I briefly discussed this film with my friend Aaron Lockhart, he made a criticism about Nelly’s dad shaving sequence being awkward and not necessary. The sequence can be justified as Nelly going through this grieving process always wanted her father shaved, as her father allowed it to make her daughter feel some kind of joy during this tough time.
However as Aaron has claimed he wished the story would be Nelly going on an adventure and returning to her parents by the end of it, not only do I understand his criticism, but I also agree as why is her father still at this house during Nelly’s encounter with her mother as a child?! Why is her mother actually gone this entire time, where the father remains at the house?! It would’ve been better played off if Nelly wakes up one morning as both parents are gone for the remaining few days, as each day items from the house continue to disappear, knowing her time with her mother as a child is coming to an end.
Don’t get me wrong: The story is somewhat wholesome, it has a cute neat concept and has it’s moments, plus it’s well acted and well shot. But the film felt more of an underachievement, as it could’ve been so much more wholesome and special, as unfortunately it just doesn’t do enough for me.
Overall, Petite Maman is an average at best film. I recommend checking this one out when it’s a rental, I wouldn’t bother rushing to a theater and seeing this. -Mitch Smietana