While there is a myriad of ways to describe Petite Maman, the effect that it has on the viewer is one of a warm hug. It’s a ray of sunshine through the leaves of a forest on a rainy day. This is my way of saying that it is wonderful and you should watch it, regardless of what I am going to say in the following few paragraphs. Director Céline Sciamma has created another emotionally resonant film and a worthy follow up to Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
The first thing you will notice is the cinematography. Shot in elegant black and white, the camera in Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades, en Francais) is a character unto itself, peering into the windows and lives of the residential towers of the district before settling on three to follow. The camera then follows them, like a close friend, and while the resulting film is lightly paced and slight with the details, it never doesn’t feel intimate and empathetic.
In the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, after Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies, Orpheus is advised that he can head to the underworld to retrieve her. He is told that he must lead her back to the surface world but must not look back for her until they are safely returned. As Orpheus crosses the threshold back to the surface, he relents and turns back, but Eurydice is still below and is then doomed to stay in the underworld forever.
This story is at the heart of the theme in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a film as concerned with memory as it is with love. As the three principal women discuss in the film, is Orpheus a fool for looking back when he knows that will seal his love’s fate? Or is he a fool for love who wants to catch a final glimpse of his love exactly as she is in that moment, exactly as he loves her, and forgo putting them both through a second painful death?
That’s right folks, the Vancouver International Film Festival is just around the corner. Here’s a special edition of the trailer roundup just focussing on films we’re excited to see at the festival.