Tender French fantasy drama explores grief; brief smoking.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Petite Maman is a beautiful French fantasy drama -- with English subtitles -- that deals with death and grief through the eyes of a young child. When helping clear out her recently deceased grandmother's house, Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) meets fellow 8-year-old Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), which leads Nelly to learn more about the people she cares for. Although the film touches on some heavy themes, they are handled with an innocent and often fantastical approach. The story moves seamlessly between different time periods, and it's often unclear as to what's real and what's not, which can be confusing. There is no violence, but the presence of death and grief is there throughout. It is suggested that Nelly's mother (Nina Meurisse) is, or has been, suffering with depression. Nelly's father (Stéphane Varupenne) is seen smoking in one brief scene. He asks Nelly if he can smoke; although she says it's bad for his health, she gives her consent. There is a creepy moment involving a shadow, but overall there is no visual traumatic content.
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What's the Story?
In PETITE MAMAN, 8-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) has just lost her grandmother. Together with her mother and father, she heads to her grandmother's house -- the house her mother grew up in -- to help empty it. While exploring the surrounding woods, Nelly meets a girl called Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). As the two strike up a friendship, they begin to learn more about themselves and each other.
Is It Any Good?
This fantasy drama is the follow-up to director and writer Céline Sciamma's superb and much-lauded Portrait of a Lady on Fire. As with that movie, Petite Maman is essentially a two-hander. But whereas the former was an exploration of love and sexuality, this is a far more innocent adventure, although it doesn't shy away from difficult subjects. At the center of the film are two mesmerizing performances from real-life twins, Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz. The chemistry between the two, as you might expect, feels authentic and natural. A scene where Nelly and Marion playfully bake in a kitchen acts as one of several reminders of the innocence of youth.
The film explores a multitude of themes, including death, grief, parenthood, and even depression. Yet these are all seen through the eyes of the two 8-year-old girls, which strips the themes back, making them more digestible. The film has a dreamlike quality. It doesn't have a linear timeline, and much of what happens is open to interpretation, both of which may confuse or bother some. What is without question is that it's beautifully shot and has a soundtrack to boot. Petite Maman will provide most with plenty to think about or will at least usher people into seeing things differently. Be that as a reminder to adults of what it was like to be a child or to kids that their parents were once children too.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Petite Maman explored themes around death and grief. How did the death of Nelly's grandmother affect the characters? How to talk to kids about difficult subjects.
What did Nelly and Marion learn from each other? Would you describe their friendship as a positive one? Why, or why not?
Did you find the film confusing? If so, which parts?
Talk about the experience of watching this movie with subtitles. Did reading them make it harder for you to enjoy the movie? Did you get used to the process?
Nelly's father smokes a cigarette, despite her telling him it's bad for his health. What are dangers of smoking?
- In theaters: April 22, 2022
- On DVD or streaming: May 6, 2022
- Cast: Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse
- Director: Celine Sciamma
- Studio: Neon
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Curiosity
- Run time: 72 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements and brief smoking
- Last updated: December 9, 2022
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For kids who love international cinema
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