HCAF21: ‘Petite Maman’ Review

Céline Sciamma’s newest feature is a beautiful exploration of grief and childhood.

Courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Society


Well, it is time to conclude my coverage of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival as I get to talk about my last screening. I was able to watch this film through their virtual cinema because I could not make it to the in-person screening at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. First of all, words cannot express how thankful I am for the wonderful people over at the Houston Cinema Arts Society, thank you for allowing The Nerd Corps to be able to cover your festival and consume some wonderful cinema in the city of Houston. Now, how was Céline Sciamma’s follow-up to her magnum opus, Portrait of a Lady on Fire?

Petite Maman is written and directed by Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Water Lillies) as she once again tackles the complexities of childhood coated in the grieving process. The film looks at Nelly (Josephine Sanz), a young girl who visits her recently deceased grandmother’s home with her father (Stéphane Varupenne) and mother (Nina Meurisse) to empty it. After her mom abruptly leaves one night, Nelly meets a little girl in the woods named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) who embarks on a journey of self-reflection and discovery. Sciamma reunites with cinematographer, Claire Mathon, to provide the beautiful and minimalist visual language of her movie.

Petite Maman is simply enigmatic, it is filled with tender introspection that transcends its message. The performances from our two child leads are fantastic and hold their weight along with the adults of the film. The film is quiet and patient as it traverses through an understanding of grief and loss. The film is a tad bit short but all that needs to be said is said throughout its runtime. I felt the first half was a bit too rushed whereas the second half worked a bit more. Even though the offhand pacing of the film, Petite Maman still manages to stay warm and bright. Céline Sciamma reminds us once again that there is beauty in simplicity like the rest of her filmography.

Even though this is my last review of the festival I am happy to say that this was a delightful festival. The Nerd Corps appreciates all the work done by the Houston Cinema Arts Society. We hope to see you all again next year for the next installment of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival.

Petite Maman is still on its festival run and is available on the NEON Blu Ray Box Set.

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