What a spot of luck that our French issue coincides with the release of the very best French cinema has to offer! Indeed, the Gallic stars have aligned with last year’s Berlinale-premiering Petite Maman and the Venice winner L’Événement (Happening).
In the space of five films, writer-director Céline Sciamma has firmly established herself as one of the most formidable voices in French cinema. She follows her stunning Portrait Of A Lady On Fire with the portrait of two equally incandescent little ladies. Petite Maman tells the story of an eight-year-old girl (Joséphine Sanz), whose grandmother has just passed away, and who encounters a young version of her mother (Gabrielle Sanz) in the woods outside of her adult mother’s childhood home.
Sciamma described this beautiful tale of coping with loss as a “time-travelling film without the time-travelling machine”. The film’s fantastical premise has hints of magical realism and this translates into an elegantly timeless fable that toys with classic fairy-tale imagery to beautifully explore the grieving process. It also articulates the fear of growing old and the importance of the fleeting moment in such an enchanting way that anyone buying a ticket for this one should brace themselves for some tears.
While Petite Maman may feel like a more low-stakes affair within her filmography (it was filmed towards the end of 2020 following the lifting of France’s lockdown restrictions), the film is by no means less affecting than her previous works: it’s a delicate and transportive autumnal reverie that’ll steal your heart in the space of a lean 72 minutes.
From an established French filmmaker to an up-and-coming talent…
At the end of the month is the release of Audrey Diwan’s unmissable L’Événement (Happening), which won the Golden Lion in Venice last year, making it the second consecutive year a film directed by a woman was awarded the festival’s top prize, following Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland in 2020. It was a historic moment, as major film festivals still have a representation issue; some are doing better than others, but the 5050×2020 pledge feels at times like a mere performative stunt.
Beyond the circumstances of its win, Diwan’s film is an outstanding achievement in and of itself. Adapted
from the best-selling autobiographical novel by Annie Ernaux, L’Événement focuses on a student’s (a note-perfect Anamaria Vartolomei) determination to find a way to terminate her pregnancy in order to continue with her studies and her life: “I want a child one day, but not one instead of a life.” The thing is the story is set in France in 1963 where abortion is illegal and those who seek a clandestine abortion risk it all in a “lottery”: if caught, it’s either a prison term or death.
While the film neither exploits the right to choose as a partisan issue nor stumbles into didacticism, it does transpire that it’s not a question of being pro-choice or pro-life. It states quite clearly that freedoms have been denied to women and that removing a person’s right to choose is tantamount to madness. What remains is a depressingly timely film, as well as one of the most gripping dramas you’ll see this year, making Diwan a talent to watch with close attention.
Petite Maman ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Starts Starts Mar 17 D: Céline Sciamma (France, 2021), with Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz
L’Événement (Happening) ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Starts Starts Mar 31 D: Audrey Diwan (France, 2021), with Anamaria Vartolomei, Luàna Bajrami, Louise Orry-Diquéro.