Petite Maman will catch audiences off guard in many ways. Nelly is a young girl who is helping clean out the house of her recently deceased grandmother. One morning, she wakes to discover her mother has left. While she is out in the woods, Nelly meets another young girl who looks a lot like her. The two become fast friends and teach each other about love and family.
The film is built for high melodrama, and make no mistake about it, there are definitely some emotionally charged scenes. When dealing with familial ties, it is hard not ignore feelings. But Petite Maman has an authenticity to it that is refreshing. Nothing feels forced or contrived. The groundswell of emotion is naturally built due to the great writing of Celine Sciamma.
Petite Maman is a personal film that anyone watching can relate with. Its story of lost childhood and regret is beautifully rendered through the friendship between Nelly and Marion. They are two eight year olds doing the things kids their age enjoy, but they are also bright for their age. The two share deep talks about family and the future. There is a lot of wisdom in the exchanges between them.
The young girls are an absolute delight to watch. They try to cook pancakes (complete with the requisite failed flip in the pan) and act out strange scenes together. It is the sort of thing that parents capture on Instagram and further engages the audience. The fantasy aspect of the film is a risky choice that never overpowers the narrative. Petite Maman is not trying to trick the audience – it is obvious almost immediately who Marion is – but for as much as it is downplayed, it also adds to the story being told. This is most evident in the beautiful closing scene that brings perfect closure to a wonderful story.
The Toronto International Film Festival takes place virtually and in person from September 9 – September 18
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