After the international triumph of Portrait of the girl on fire, Céline Sciamma saw the doors open wide in front of her. The French filmmaker has nevertheless chosen the path of simplicity and stripping with Little mom, a tale echoing the wounds of childhood, a recurring theme in his work. Maintenance.
Posted at 6:30 a.m.
Céline Sciamma recognizes this bluntly: there is a “before” and an “after” for her. Portrait of the girl on fire. The worldwide success of this feature film, whose screenplay won an award at the Cannes Film Festival, is one of those that usually rarely occurs in the career of a filmmaker. Keeping her feet firmly on the ground, the author and director chose as her next project to urgently film a story she had been having in her mind for quite some time. Little mom is the result of a creative process through which, for the first time, Céline Sciamma works with her “own ghosts”.
“The international success of Portrait of the girl on fire Above all, it gave me the freedom to do something else, ”she explains during a virtual press meeting, held as part of the Unifrance French Cinema Meetings. “People talk to me a lot about the pressure of the film after and the expectations it entails, but I prefer things that change. I am delighted to have known this kind of success, with this moment of changeover on the international level, but what is done is no longer to be done. »
A sense of urgency
The idea of Little mom having arisen when Céline Sciamma was at the stage of writing Portrait of a girl on firethe choice of the next project was already fixed in his mind, long before the release of his previous feature film.
“I dreamed a lot about this film,” she says. When it came time to really write it, in March 2020, the pandemic arrived. Even though the nature of the story is timeless, I was driven by an urgency, with an idea for a fantastic tale that can fit into any era. The pandemic has hit elders and children hard. She made all the little mythologies in this story come true. It seemed essential to me to talk to the children, to bring the generations together. To this was also added the urgency of making cinema, of supporting it. »
The heroine of Little mom is Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), an 8-year-old girl. Her grandmother has just died, leaving her mother (Nina Meurisse) in a state of deep sadness. Having accompanied her parents, who must have gone to the house of the deceased grandmother to make an inventory of what is there, Nelly discovers a child’s hut under construction in the vicinity and is invited by a little girl from the same age at completion. This other girl is, in fact, none other than her own mother…
“It’s the first time that I’ve used cinema as a tool of convocation, of resurrection, underlines Céline Sciamma. It is both very personal and very powerful. I also believe that it feels. This is all a bit of a mystery, but that’s how it is. As a way to intertwine the personal and the collective through a story that can mean a lot to a lot of people, no matter where they grew up. »
Talk to children
Having scripted the excellent animated feature a few years ago my zucchini life (Claude Barras), Céline Sciamma insisted that Little mom always kept at child’s height, citing in this regard the approach of the Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited away).
“Miyazaki is one of the few filmmakers – and perhaps the only one – to make films for children, who no one says he makes children’s films. His cinema is audacious, full of formal inventions, and provokes great emotions. When I hesitated over a choice of direction, I often referred to him and wondered what he would have done in the same situation. »
This desire to also speak to children, and to be understood by them, proved to be all the more crucial in the eyes of the filmmaker because in times of crisis, we speak very little to them collectively.
It’s a bit as if we always consider them in the future with a rather authoritarian gaze – we see them as future citizens, future spectators, future this and that –, without ever taking their present into account. Through this story, I wanted to put them back in the center.
Recognition of directors
Céline Sciamma is also recognized for her fight to ensure that women achieve better representation in the world of cinema. She also participated in the creation of Collectif 5050, which produced the charter in favor of gender parity, signed by most major international festivals, including Cannes, Sundance, Venice, Berlin and Toronto.
Last year, the highest honors were awarded to female directors. Chloe Zhao (nomadland) at the Oscars last year (and Jane Campion this year thanks to The Power of the Dog), Julia Ducournau at the Cannes Film Festival (Palme d’Or at Titanium) and Audrey Diwan at the Venice Film Festival (Golden Lion at The event). In Quebec, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette was honored at the Gala Québec Cinéma thanks to The Goddess of Fireflies (and Sophie Deraspe the previous year with Antigone), and it is mainly the female directors who create the event thanks to powerful works like Underground (Sophie Dupuis) or, more recently, Noémie says yes (Genevieve Albert).
“We’ve known for a long time that female directors make great films! Says Céline Sciamma. What has changed is that it now seems to be taken into account more. For a long time, the history of cinema erased these looks, often forgotten. I simply hope that this recognition is not only circumstantial and that it will have continuity. The fact that representation issues now have international support gives me hope. We will thus be able to recover our entire history and give all the creators their rightful share. »
Little mom hits theaters May 13.
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Céline Sciamma and Petite Maman | The Way of Childhood