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An Unforgettable Ode to Motherly Love Seen Thru a Girl’s Interconnected Memories

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By Roger Costa

PETITE MAMAN

Emotionally disoriented and seeking console, an 8-year-old girl named Nelly, walks around the hallway of a nursing home, saying goodbye to some of its residents, lonely and ill old folks, whom she probably became acquainted with as she might have spent time there, hoping for her grandmother to get better and come back home. That didn’t happen, as many other inevitable consequences in life, which most of the time we can hardly understand it. The little girl’s saddened walk, carrying  a long goodbye for those still there, is her personal way of making it up for what, she believes, she didn’t do right: “I didn’t get to say goodbye, really meaning it”, she reveals to her mother, grieving grandmother’s sudden death.

Her attitude towards herself and how she grieves demonstrate her ability to analyze her own consciousness and acts, as well as her ability to absorb the emotions and reactions around her. It is a way of compensating the hard times she’s been forced to go through, facing the realities of loss. At such a young age, she is experiencing the worse of the feelings, that one of letting someone go forever, the fear that insists to haunt us, living creatures threatened by the mysterious final departure, which she, somehow, manages to cope and endure as strong as anyone could ever have expected.

Following her parents, she arrives at her late grandmother’s house in order to clear it up, but the circumstances force them to remain there a little longer. Her mother leaves unannounced, increasing poor Nelly’s fears of losing someone again. After getting breakfast with her father, Nelly sets off to the woods, seeking adventures, as any normal tomboy of her age, and there she meets Marion, learning that they have a whole lot in common. After spontaneously exchanging their feelings, family history, aspirations and fears to each other, the girls form an immediate special bond, a sort of magical connection that spans time, generations, life and death. And the first thing to note is that Marion is named exactly as Nelly’s mother. It is an even better experience when you don’t know the facts that connect these girls, delving into an enthralling magical puzzle that offers hypnotizing and revelatory performances by the pair of twin girls who perform the protagonists.

An ode to the essential source of love, motherly love, love between mother and daughter, this is a lovely film that reminds us the power of love and how we learn of it: from the womb. It is seen through the innocence of these girls and the broken pieces they are struggling to carry along, and maybe stick them back together again.

Writer-director Celine Sciamma conducts the material with impressive sensibility and depth, another remarkable modern fable fiercely told through her feminine angles that speak universally to relatable issues. Here, the director examines loss, memory, love, life and death, childhood and broken innocence with outstanding results, proving to be the appropriate time to call her an auteur. Since her remarkable 2007’s debut “Water Lilies”, Sciamma has been conceiving an admirable career following her own aesthetic and a singular feminine voice to embrace, explore and depict difficult issues with extremely accuracy, affection and empathy. Her second, “Tomboy” was already a masterpiece, while “Girlhood” and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” catapulted her to become a member of contemporary arthouse stardom.

With “Petite Maman”, Sciamma’s most accomplished, engaging, moving film to date, she claims a favorable spot in the industry with this stupendous, magnificent piece of art that also celebrates the powerful talent of child actors. Superbly performed by the twin girls with convincing and incredible balance between the melancholy and vitality demanded from her characters, the film explores the co-dependence between mother and daughter examining generational issues.

Sciamma crafted a masterpiece, a crowd-pleasing arthouse experience like nothing before. An unforgettable movie you fall in love with even though it breaks your heart.

(NEON. Now Playing at Film at Lincoln Center, 144 West 65th Street, Broadway, NYC. Go to www.FilmLinc.org for tickets and showtimes.)


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