Top Ten Movies of 2021 — Number Five

Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman is made with a refined elegance so pristine that it can give the impression that the filmmaker simply landed upon it, despite ample evidence that painstaking craft was employed. For instance, the film is reliant on two actresses whose ages haven’t yet reached double digits, Joséphine Sanz and Gabrielle Sanz, which undoubtedly required stealthy strategies to evoke such emotionally astute performances. Then there’s the precision of the visual images, lovely yet natural, so unforced in their tender drama that the power of them arrives as a quiet surprise. Many of these qualities were present in Sciamma’s preceding film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, so they are hardly a shock here. The added degree of difficulty in Petite Maman, with its casual use of magic realism to accentuate the theme of generational legacy, elevates it further. The dreamlike quality is an apt reflection of the way memory transforms incident into impression, experience into feeling. In its delicacy and assurance, Petite Maman strives for, and reaches, a type of rhapsodic catharsis.

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