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TIFF 2021 Review: Petite Maman – “A contemporary faerie tale”

A young girl makes a friend with a playmate of the same age who may help her better understand her mother.

Eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) says goodbye to the residents of a senior’s home and ends up in the room that once belonged to her deceased maternal grandmother.  Her parents then travel to the childhood home of her mother where they begin the process of packing away the household belongings.  Nelly ventures into the nearby forest and meets a young girl; the two of them develop a friendship and go about building a hut made of branches and leaves to attempting to make pancakes with mischievous results.

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The two child actors are impressive, in particular Joséphine Sanz as there is not a false note in her performance; you discover the world with her and she has an endearing and genuine way of interacting with the other cast members.  Filmmaker Céline Sciamma has created a contemporary faerie tale with a forest being a common place setting.  A child attempts to understand whether or not she is the cause of the prevailing sadness of her mother; the worry is so strong that it literally manifests into something physical.

A quiet gentleness prevails throughout the story as Nelly has an affectionate relationship with her parents and a natural curiosity.  The reveal of the past colliding with present is not jarring.  There are hints of what is going to happen such as Nelly lamenting being able to hear about the childhood moments that really mattered to her mother and father.  The cinematography and editing fade away into the background while music is only once, meaning that there are no obvious cues as to what the audience should be feeling at any given moment.  Letting the environment determine the soundscape is smart choice as it makes the cinematic experience even more immersive and believable.

The 46th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 9-18, 2021, and for more information visit    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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