Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman Reminisces Childhoods Without Romanticising Them, Film Companion

Petite Maman is a film by Céline Sciamma, of Portrait of a Lady on Fire fame. Celine deals with the subjects of women, gender and the fluidity of it all. I recently watched Petite Maman, a slow burn, honest movie and I felt like I relived my childhood. The film is about a young girl, Nelly, and her visit to her maternal home after the death of her grandmother. The film portrays how close and honest the relationship between a mother and her daughter can be. Sometimes, their openness and maturity towards each other will make you feel like they are sisters.

Nelly is a sharp, observant and intuitive young girl. She interacts with her surroundings with a meditative playfulness that one can remember only from their childhood. She is deeply connected to her mother and grandmother and feels awfully upset when her grandmother passes away. She then explores a secret backyard forest where she meets a little girl, Marion who we find out is her mother, back in time. She sees this as the perfect opportunity to understand her mother better and say a final goodbye to her grandmother.


As a child, I spent every summer holiday with my grandparents. For me, they are the ones responsible for giving me my creativity, my thinking abilities and a quest for meaning. In this maternal house, I see Nelly open up and discover things for herself. She plays with textures and colours, food and material. She understands human dynamics and human emotions and her understanding is being molded every step of the way.

It is a grandmother’s recipe, an old hand-stitched quilt, a warm hug under the blanket and a scraped knee that teach you something, in this film. Nelly and Marion create a glittering world of play, drama and cooking, for themselves. If I had a friend or sibling at that age, I would be a different person, but at least I discovered poetry. It was a means for me to understand my surroundings and evoke its memory every time I needed support. Be it in a little town in France or a little town in Kerala, the film reassured me that there are little girls everywhere with minds full of questions and hearts full of love, just waiting for a friend and a final goodbye to the places and people that made them.

Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman Reminisces Childhoods Without Romanticising Them, Film Companion

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

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