It took Céline Sciamma's gaze for a film shot at the height of a child to mutate into a fantastic, even metaphysical work. Her fifth feature, Petite Maman, is inhabited by pure cinematic magic, managing to make us believe, without special effects, that we are meeting 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 used to meet. 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, twin to Josephine). In the autumn light, they make themselves a hut, as many children would do, and yet something anachronistic sets in. Marion takes on the role of Nelly's "little mama". She projects herself into the future of an upcoming maternity ward. 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 Mum rocks into the science fiction film by relying simply – and magnificently – on everything that cinema can invent. The viewer is thrown into troubled waters when the two little girls move without warning from childish conversation to adult discussion, from little horses to mother-daughter confidences. You have to listen. "I think you're often unhappy," Nelly says, sometimes wondering if it's because of her. "You didn't invent my sadness," Marion reassures her.
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 sense revolutionary in the term.