* * * * *
Céline Sciamma’s follow-up to Portrait of a Lady on Fire, is, if anything, even better, and the best film I’ve seen at the cinema thus far in 2022. It is a perfect, gentle jewel, precise, concise (72 minutes!), warm, heartfelt, witty, moving and ultimately profound.
At a crucial point in her young life, an eight-year old girl, Nelly, meets and befriends another eight-year-old girl, Marion. Their brief relationship is rendered with astonishing authenticity, reflecting a deeply astute understanding of the inner life of children and young girls in particular.
Sciamma gets extraordinary naturalistic performances from young sisters Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz, neither of whom have any other screen credits. Joséphine, as Nelly, portrays a world of curiosity, understanding and thought that, as the father of an eight-year old girl, I recognised implicitly. Every frame of her performance rings true, as though she is living the part. At one point her father shaves his beard, implying that perhaps the film was shot in sequence, which would make perfect sense. You absolutely and fundamentally go on Nelly’s small-but-massive journey with her, days that will change not so much her life as her understanding of it.
Sciamma’s direction is sublime and her writing heartfelt. In its modest ambition, Petite Maman achieves a kind of delicate monumentality. Do not miss it. I can’t wait to show it to my own daughter, who will recognise its integrity more than I ever can.