“Petite Maman”, on France 4: meeting of the “third type” between a little girl and her child mother


It took Céline Sciamma’s gaze for a film shot at the height of a child to mutate into a fantastic, even metaphysical work. His fifth feature film, Little mom, is inhabited by a pure cinematographic magic, manages to make us believe, without special effects, to meet not the “third type”, but the second mother.

It is the improbable story of a little girl who meets her mother when she was a child. So let’s cling to the footsteps of Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), 8 years old, with a somewhat limping gait. His legs move forward like two hands of a slightly out of order clock. But no matter, she trots, and it is she who gives the pulse of this metronomic work.

Her maternal grandmother ended her days in a home for the elderly. The little one says ” Goodbye ” to the old ladies she had grown accustomed to seeing. Her mother, Marion (Nina Meurisse), a little stunned and absent, has to empty the house of the deceased, located on the edge of a wood, where she herself grew up and, according to family legend, liked to make huts. Nelly discovers the place with her parents, absorbed in sorting and tidying up. Then, Marion leaves the place without warning, leaving her daughter in a state of great perplexity.

In troubled water

This sudden departure causes the story to branch off and mysterious characters to appear. Nelly comes out of the house to play and does not take long to see a little girl who waves to her. Her name is Marion (Gabrielle Sanz, Josephine’s twin). In the autumn light, they make themselves a cabin, as many children would do, and yet something anachronistic sets in. Marion begins to take on the role of Nelly’s “little mother”. She projects herself into the future of a maternity ward to come. She lives in a house next to the housing estate, made according to the same plan as that of Nelly’s grandmother. She takes advantage of this unexpected maternal presence to ask questions that haunt her.

Little mom switches to science fiction by relying simply – and magnificently – on everything that cinema can invent. The spectator is embarked on troubled waters when the two little girls pass without warning from childish conversation to adult discussion, from little horses to mother-daughter confidences. You have to listen. “I think you are often unhappy”says Nelly, who sometimes wonders if it’s not because of her. “You did not invent my sadness”reassures Marion.

After tomboy (2011), about a little transgender boy born in the body of a girl, blurring the tracks of his identity, Céline Sciamma questions emancipation, the capacity of children to determine themselves in relation to the adult world, in the revolutionary sense of term.

Little mom, by Celine Sciamma. With Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne (Fr., 2021, 70 min).

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