“I do not know the right things,” eight-year-old Nelly (Josephine Sanz) tells his father (Stephane Varupenne) a day for breakfast. Nelly has asked what her father and mother (Nina Meurisse) was like children, but she has only received the basic information, the usual handful of memories that sprout into a person’s mind when thinking of the past. Nelly knows little things, like how her dad liked pizza, or how her mother built a fort of trees in her backyard, but there are so many other things that Nelly does not know, and honestly, her parents have either forgotten years, or simply did not think it was worth sharing with their daughter.
In the beginning of Little motherthe amazing new movie written and directed by Portrait of a woman on fire‘s Celine Sciamma, Nelly has lost her grandmother. Later, Nelly will tell her mother that her “last goodbye was not good” because none of them knew it would be the last. But it’s not only that Nelly could not give her grandmother an effective goodbye as we can not know when a farewell will be the last, it is also all the little things that get lost when we lose someone. There are so many pieces of “the right things” that we lose when someone passes by, to the point that there is so much about even the closest people in our lives that we simply can never know. Even the smallest things help create the people we hold close and love.
IN Little mother, Sciamma explores this idea in a film that almost feels like a modern fairy tale, quiet and intricate, but thoroughly delightful. When Nelly and her parents return to her mother’s childhood home to clean it, Nelly discovers a Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), a girl her age in the woods where her mother used to play. As the two quickly become friends, Nelly finds herself bonding with her mother in a way she never thought was possible.
Little mother focuses on the discovery that our parents at one point were like us, with lives and problems that were fully formed before we ever were. But again, Sciamma also explores the elements that made our parents and what came before us that we can never quite know. As Marion tells Nelly during a game, “secrets are not always things we try to hide, there is just no one to tell them to.” It’s a heartbreaking idea Sciamma struggles with here, but Sciamma does it with grace and deep amounts of love, showing that we should appreciate the time we have with those we love while we can.
Sciamma is extremely legendary in Little mother, and revel in the joy of the friendship between Nelly and Marion as they build forts together and mess up making pancakes. As Little mother unraveling itself, this bond becomes even more powerful and overwhelming in its meaning, a friendship that helps Nelly understand her past and what came before her in a way that is truly beautiful.
But Sciamma’s filmmaking is just as playful here. Sciamma and film photographer Claire Mathon find warmth in this home in the woods that feels lived in and filled with a story that we again may not quite know. Sciamma is filled with tenderness and love for these characters, especially in the charming moments between Nelly and her father. Seeing Nelly help her father shave his beard is as if we are seeing a core memory from Nelly’s childhood being formed. Sciamma also feels like an active participant in this relationship when Nelly at bedtime says she wants to “transport to tomorrow”, and when her father turns off the light in the bedroom, Sciamma immediately interrupts Nelly’s next play date with Marion.
With Little motherCéline Sciamma makes a dizzyingly beautiful tale about the little things we are not told about those we love, the battles of loss and the beauty of those who came from the path behind us.
Little mother currently playing in limited release and expanding to more theaters on May 6th.
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