Petite Maman

Twin actresses playing a mother and daughter is more delightful and emotional than you’d expect.

Translated from French to English as “Little Mom,” “Petite Maman” is a French movie that can easily relate to the child in all of us. It’s also a fantasy that doesn’t succumb to the idiocy that “Little” did when none of the characters knew the genre of an adult turning into a kid or the other way around in the classic “Big” way. But rather, it shows us an honest and sweet reactions about how a little can can respond to seeing her mother returning to her young age.

At times, it was a little confusing to tell who was who, unless you knew what coats they were wearing, but there’s a reason for that. The main child Nelly is portrayed by Josephine Sanz and her mother Marion is played by Gabrielle Sanz, and both these actresses are twin sisters. I found that out after watching “Petite Maman,” which may be a short movie running for 72 minutes, but is still delightful and emotional as writer/director Celine Sciamama (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) cuts back on the movie fantasy cliches, and gives it a sentimental aspect.

The movie begins with Nelly losing her grandmother-her mother’s mother-and her and her parents return to Marion’s childhood home to clean it out. Marion (Nina Meurisse in adult form) leaves that night without saying goodbye, and the next morning, Nelly wanders in the woods looking to rebuild a hut her mother made, and then comes a little girl. Nelly then realizes that little girl is her mother.

Does she tell her father (Stéphane Varupenne) about what she saw? What? And listen to the same old “You’re probably just imagining things,” “But dad,” “That’s enough” crap? I don’t think so. Nelly don’t play that. (That’s a Homie D. Clown reference, BTW).

Instead, she joins her mother in some activities, and they both come to terms with their realities. Even little kids are smarter than how the adults would judge them. You have to appreciate them, not just for their youth, but also for their minds. Why can’t most movie kids be like these girls?

Last week, I’ve mentioned how both French films “Petite Maman” and “Paris, 13th District” were written by Sciamama and forget the formulas of typical American films, which is refreshing. They’re written and told with a low-key consistency and a sweetness within that really keeps up involved. The Sanz twins are both excellent in their roles in the ways they adapt to their situations and are smart enough to know what they’re getting themselves into. Meurisse opens and closes the film as the adult Marion with the greatest of ease, and Varupenne has his peaceful nature without being the movie dad. Matter of fact, none of these actors are movie characters. They’re people characters.

This movie is rated PG, and yet, it doesn’t feature your obligatory toilet humor or embarrassing situations. Yes, there have been family films to push themselves to different limits, and this is more for older kids and adults, ones who want stories and character studies. And as I’ve mentioned, it’s a short movie, so it might make things easy for them, unless otherwise noted.

“Petite Maman” is one of the rare mother-daughter stories to not feature estranged stories, which tend to get exhausting and irritable, and uses the twins to play them with innocence and spirit. It’s able to combine the past with the present without being so gimmicky or tedious or commercial. Sciamama has delivered another near-masterpiece-a short, but wise one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

In Select Theaters This Friday

Categories: Drama, Fantasy, Foreign

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