An eight-year-old girl makes a new friend in the woods surrounding her mother's childhood home in Petite Maman. After the death of her grandmother, eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) travels with her mother (Nina Meurisse) and father (Stéphane Varupenne) to clean out the former's childhood home. While venturing into the woods surrounding the house, Nelly meets and befriends Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), a girl her same age who is awfully familiar to Nelly.
Petite Maman is a fantasy drama written and directed by Céline Sciamma (Portrait of the Lady on Fire). The film is told from the perspective of eight-year-old Nelly, who is mourning the death of her maternal grandmother. While venturing into the woods surrounding the house, Nelly comes across Marion, working on building a tree fort. The two quickly develop a friendship and bond with each other in the days leading up to Marion having to leave for an operation.
One only really needs to look up the English translation of Petite Maman‘s title to figure out the true nature of the film, even though it is a fact that the plot doesn't really try to hide. Nelly's burgeoning friendship with Marion fills a void left by the melancholy behaviour of Nelly's mother, who at one point decides to leave her childhood home, resulting in Nelly's father having to finish clearing out the house on his own.
Even though Petite Maman has a relatively brisk 70-minute running time, both Nelly and Marion experience a lot of growth over the course of their friendship. The twin sisters Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz really shine in their performances as Nelly and Marion and you truly believe that these two eight-year-old girls can become best friends in a matter of days. In fact, the two child actors end up carrying the bulk of the narrative, with the adult actors of Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenn and Margot Abascal (as Marion's mother) often being relegated to the background. However, the true icing on the cake for Petite Maman is the film's final five minutes, which features probably one of the most heartwarming moments I have seen in a film.
Overall, I have to say that Petite Maman continues Céline Sciamma's ability at crafting engaging and emotional female-centric stories. Setting aside the more fantastic elements of the plot, Petite Maman is an emotional and engaging film that covers both childhood friendship and parental bonding that will hopefully result in you leaving the cinema with a smile on your face.