Wednesday, January 19

Céline Sciamma, filmmaker: “That children have lived less does not mean that they are idiots”

He shot ‘Petite Maman’ during confinement. How much did the pandemic have to do with the idea of ​​doing it?

When the confinement began, I had just written the first 10 pages of the script, which describes how an eight-year-old girl says goodbye to her deceased grandmother. And the truth is that the first wave of the pandemic, during which so many children had to say goodbye to their elders or were afraid of losing them, pushed me to continue with the film. In any case, the idea of ​​making it part of an image that arose in my head: two girls build a house in a tree and, although they are both the same age, one of them is the mother and the other the daughter. It struck me as both a magical and disturbing situation, like a fairy tale. And it seemed to me that it allowed me to question the kind of mother-daughter relationship that cinema and literature often portray.

In what sense?

There are very few fictions starring women of different generations, and those that tell stories about mothers and daughters tend to focus on the conflict. And I feel that this responds to a climate of social rupture; intergenerational relationships are tearing apart, and that seems terrible to me. I wanted to vindicate the importance of transmission, and not only in the family sphere. I am not heterosexual and I will surely never pass on my DNA, but that does not prevent me from feeling the need to convey my ideas and feelings to friends, neighbors or viewers of my films.

“There are very few fictions starring women of different generations, and those that tell stories about mothers and daughters tend to focus on the conflict”


Have you ever thought about what you would say to your own mother if you met her when she was a child?

Of course, and I think we have all been curious to know what our parents were like when we were little. It is important to bear in mind that they were also brats in their day, because that eliminates the hierarchy that exists between generations and allows us to see them as equals. A friend of mine, after seeing the movie, said to me: “Now when I am arguing with my father, I think of him as a child with whom I build a house in a tree, and immediately I stop being angry with him.” It seems to me something precious.

You already talked about childhood in ‘Tomboy’ (2011), the second film you directed, and in ‘Life of Zucchini’ (2016), of which you were a screenwriter. What attracts you especially about that stage?

Children are much more intelligent, sensitive and insightful than we used to believe. That they have lived less does not mean that they are idiots. We usually consider them citizens of the future, but we never accept them as citizens of the present, and we never take them into account other than to instrumentalize them. During the worst of the pandemic, they have experienced the same stresses and insecurities as adults, and instead of trying to protect them, we have blamed them for being the true transmitters of the virus. We should listen to them much more. If we did, they could guide and lead us.

In fact, some of them are already leaders. Greta Thunberg, for example.

It is true, the movement to combat climate change is led by the youngest. And it can be said that TikTok, which is a social network made up mainly of the new generations, generally professes a left-wing ideology. I insist, children have a lot to teach us. And the film tries to refute that idea according to which, when we reach adulthood, our childhood becomes something belonging to the past and the child within us dies. After all, don’t we all turn into children when we walk into the movies? Yes, when a child goes to the cinema to see a movie they can mature thanks to it, but in the case of adults the process is the opposite. Cinema can take us back to our childhood or propose an alternative childhood, it can invite us to look at the world through the eyes of a child. And in that sense, I think my film is an ideal rejuvenation treatment.

“I think ‘Petite Maman’ is an ideal rejuvenation treatment”


Also, in a way, it’s a movie about time travel …

Yes! But unlike Back to the Future, there are no special effects, no time machines, and no flux capacitors. In addition, Back to the Future approached temporary trips from a capitalist perspective: it understood them as an opportunity to improve their lives, earn more money and stay with the girl. For the record, it is a movie that I love, but ‘Petite Maman’ is something else; suggests that the best time machine is our own minds, which allow us to travel not only through our memories but also through our imaginations. Perhaps that is also why it is a perfect film for these times of pandemic, in which the imagination can become a place to take refuge from reality.

‘Petite Maman’ is the first film he has directed after achieving great international success thanks to ‘Portrait of a Woman on Fire’ (2019). How did that impact affect you and to what extent did it affect your next project?

I did ‘Portrait of a Woman on Fire’, which is a love story between two women set in the 18th century, almost as a political gesture and, therefore, in the hope that as many people as possible would see it; its success, then, made me feel on a cloud. Probably after getting such a positive reception I could have made a bigger budget movie. But ‘Petite Maman’ is just the movie I needed to make.


When the pandemic hit us, I felt that I should shoot something and release it as soon as possible, because people needed films to escape and be inspired by. I premiered it at the last edition of the Berlinale, which was held in virtual format, and therefore from the beginning I knew that many people would not see it in a movie theater but at home, in streaming. But I didn’t care, under the circumstances. I believe that what has happened in recent months has pushed us to discover ways to experience films and has renewed our collective love for them, and in the process has allowed us to expand the limits of what we consider the cinematographic experience. It may be that from now on theaters will play a less relevant role in our consumption of films, but that does not mean that the future of cinema is in danger. In fact, it has been proven that we cannot live without it.

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