Celina Sciamma directs ‘sublime’ tale of mothers and daughters in Petite Maman (Image: Lilies Films)

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Following her masterpiece romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire, director Celine Sciamma is back with an examination of another powerful relationship.

Sciamma's new film Petite Maman opens with young Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) saying farewell to a nursing home following the death of her maternal grandmother.

Accompanying her mother Marion (Nina Meurisse) to her leafy childhood home, Nelly takes part in her parents' clearing of her grandmother's belongings.

One day, Nelly finds that her mother has abruptly departed, leaving her alone with her kind father (Stéphane Varupenne).

As Nelly goes exploring in the autumnal landscape that surrounds the house, she comes across a wooden fort built in the forest and meets a curiously familiar girl named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz).

Petite Maman director Celine Sciamma
(Image: Claire Mathon)

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Clocking in at a slight 72 minutes, Petite Maman proves that Sciamma remains an expert at evoking the subtleties of human relationships and also bringing forth magnetic turns from young performers.

Capturing a youthful naiveté but with a mature sensitivity akin to her wonderful 2011 film Tomboy, Sciamma grounds proceedings in Nelly's experiences and keeps a light fantastical realism around what happens next.

Ambiguity is abandoned somewhat halfway through the film as the symbolic becomes much more literal, but the director also chooses not to entirely explain what is unfolding and lets us bask in the eerie emotional glow of the young characters as they bring forth an unspoken bond between a mother and her daughter.

Both of the Sanz sisters give charming and riveting work for such young actors, while Meurisse brings to life a caring but haunted enigma in Nelly's mother.

Petite Maman, directed by Celina Sciamma
(Image: Lilies Films)

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The exquisitely judged frames of cinematographer Claire Mathon may not be so obviously rapturous as with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but still, her work is a sight to behold, utilising the cool stares of the performers, elegant compositions, and well-utilising the brown and red hues of the seasonal surroundings.

Despite the clear thematic heart to Petite Maman, Sciamma revels once again in the moments of camaraderie and empathy between her characters but judges it delicately enough  so as to never feel mawkish.

Wearing its heart on its sleeve, Petite Maman is a touching examination of a quietly magical bond between a mother and her daughter.

Verdict

Petite Maman is a sublime light fantasy from director Celine Sciamma that tackles the enduring power of mother-and-daughter relationships across more than one generation.

Petite Maman premiered at Berlin International Film Festival 2021 but does not currently have a UK release date.