Celine Sciamma: time travel without a time machine

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For years, Celine Sciamma’s films have been highly coveted in the circles of film art lovers, because her cinema is on the one hand a certain brittleness, but at the same time goes straight to the heart; It is often about growing up, about young girls and women who want or should find their way and their destiny; “Water Lillies” (2007), her feature film debut, received a lot of attention in Cannes, “Tomboy” (2011) about a girl who thinks she is in the wrong body, emotionally and without much emotion negotiated the inner world and the interpersonal longings of adolescents. Perhaps this is the core feature of all of her four previous films, and the latest, fifth, fits in with this: In “Petite Maman” (“Little Mother”) Sciamma succeeds in looking back at her (own) childhood in a calm and therefore all the more appealing way. After the death of her grandmother in her abandoned house in the forest, eight-year-old Nelly gets into a time warp that takes her 25 years into the past. There she meets her mother Marion, who was the same age at the time, who is about to have an operation; For a short time the girls have to approach cautiously and complete the tree house that Marion has started.

Not much is told in Sciamma’s films, and “Petite Maman” is no exception; but the gaps that the director grants her audience are very suitable for getting lost in a story of their own. A circumstance that Sciamma uses very deliberately, as she reveals: “This film is the one in my filmography that has so far worked most closely with the audience,” says Sciamma. “Cinema is always a collaboration with the viewer. Every film needs our hearts and our brains to develop its universe. A film must give you space for your own story, which you experience through it”.

Céline Sciamma (right) with her actresses at the Festival in Cannes 2019: Back then, before Corona, she was able to convince with her film “Portrait of a young woman in flames” – © Katharina Sartena

For “Petite Maman”, Sciamma places childhood at the center of her observations. “This film was shot from the viewer’s point of view, not from the point of view of the characters. And it was important to me to develop the film from a child’s point of view. Childhood is important to me, I take children as seriously as adults.” The forest, the main place where the two girls meet, is modeled on the forest in which Sciamma also played as a child. Because of the corona pandemic, however, the film was shot in the studio as a precaution, where Sciamma had the forest and tree house rebuilt. “I didn’t want to see the lockdown as a pure writing session, I wanted to try to shoot this film anyway. I had never shot in the studio before, but Corona made it necessary to work in isolation and not let the virus in. In this setting was very easy to work with. And so I was able to recreate the forest and also the rooms and corridors of my grandma’s house as I remembered them “.

Sciamma calls her 72-minute long film a “time travel film without a time machine, the magic lies in the editing and I think that films are generally time machines. The film should be timeless, although it travels through time. I admit that sounds good a little crazy”. But the experiment succeeds, “Petite Maman” then tells in a wonderfully simple way what one generation passes on to the next. And that’s nice to see.





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Celine Sciamma time travel time machine

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