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Celine Sciamma on how film Petite Maman ‘abolishes the hierarchy’ in family

The film is the director’s first since the celebrated Portrait Of A Lady On Fire.

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Petite Maman (Mubi/PA)

Petite Maman (Mubi/PA)

Petite Maman (Mubi/PA)

Acclaimed French director Celine Sciamma has said she wanted to “abolish the hierarchy within the family” in her latest movie, which shows a mother and daughter at the same age.

Petite Maman is the follow-up to Sciamma’s 2019 film Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, which was nominated for a Bafta and a British Independent Film Award and was shortlisted for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival, where it won best screenplay.

The film tells the story of little girl Nelly, who has just lost her grandmother and is helping her parents clean out her mother’s childhood home.

As she explores the house and the surrounding woods, she meets a girl of the same age who looks just like her and turns out to be her mother as a child.

Nelly and her mother are played by real-life twins Josephine and Gabrielle Sanz, and Sciamma told the PA news agency: “I wanted to abolish the hierarchy within the family, like I wanted to abolish the hierarchy between the artist and the muse in a way (in Portrait Of A Lady On Fire).

“It’s about equality between the mother and the daughter, because they are the same age, and that’s also why I picked sisters, and also sisters born on the same day, because I felt, ‘Oh, they’re going to be equal’.

“And in your mind, it will be clear that they meet at the exact same moment in their life, which felt like this is the magic of casting, and the film is all about the basic tools of cinema.

“And I felt really connected to the women via years of cinema when I was doing this, they invented magic realism.

“This felt also like the celebration of some form of childhood, of cinema, and talking of representation, also of kids on screen, having the full range of character and full range of the individual – kids being serious, kids being comedic, seeing kids as they are.

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“It’s also a tribute to what great individuals kids are and what great characters they are.”

She added: “It was a good surprise – and it was crafted to produce that, but it’s always a surprise when it works –  that a kid from the 50s and a kid from today can both connect to the film, as it is so timeless.

“Whatever your childhood was, even now the film is being released all over the world, you connect to it.

“I didn’t feel the film with a lot of background for that specific family, we don’t even know the name of the father, so it’s really minimalistic regarding the back story, and it’s designed that way so that you can fill it with your own backstory.

“A friend of mine said, ‘whenever I’m angry at my father and things aren’t good, I imagine myself building a treehouse with him as a kid and things are better’.

“That’s the best comment ever because cinema should be useful. Meaningful, but also useful.”

Petite Maman is out now in UK cinemas and will be available on Mubi on February 4.


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