The director of Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is back with another masterpiece

BY NIC CROSARA, IMAGE BY MUBI

When I was coming to terms with my genderfluidity I browsed the internet for genderqueer films and Tomboy by Céline Sciamma was on every list. Upon watching it, she quickly became one of my favourite directors. Throughout her career she has created many coming of age films which explore sexual and gender fluidity and has been respected as a trailblazing queer filmmaker. Two years ago, British audiences first saw the breathtaking Portrait Of A Lady On Fire which further cemented Céline as an auteur. In her latest film, Petite Maman, Céline returns to portraying a child protagonist and utilises magical realism elements to present an intimate look at the relationship between a grandmother, mother and child. 

Whilst Petite Maman tackles heavy topics such as grief, I found it comforting. Céline tells me that for her, “It’s really a film that you can take back home with you, whatever home is. I had this idea that the film could be a therapeutic tool”. She speaks about how we often heal ourselves through fiction and shares a story that her friend told her, “I’ll know whenever I’m pissed off at my Dad, I imagine that I’m building a treehouse with him as kids and things are better”. The question that was on the director’s mind when she was writing the film was, “If I met my mother at eight, would she be my sister?”

I ask Céline what interests her most about exploring coming-of-age stories. “They are the best characters for the cinema I want to make. They care so much, they put on so much pressure when they ask the questions. The kid gaze is really deep and caring and allows us to be very creative narrative wise.” This film is notably different in tone from her previous films following young protagonists, and it’s not just because of the fantastical elements. I ask how her previous works influenced her artistic decisions. “The main difference between Tomboy and Petite Maman is that Tomboy is also based on the art of conflict. There’s violence in it and now I’m trying not to do that anymore. To create a safe space for characters. I think that’s also how we create new narratives.”

Since the iconic release of Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, I can only imagine how much Céline’s life has changed. When I ask her how she navigates this change and being such a groundbreaking queer director she says, “There’s two sides to this. The first is, feeling that you belong to a community, feeling you’re giving something to your community, which is a very peaceful feeling, a very loving feeling. Then you also have to deal with the pressure that comes along with this”. Whilst Céline is still processing how her life has changed (and the world around her after being locked in for a year and a half) she is grateful for the opportunity to connect with an international crowd and community. 

Céline’s work has shown that there is a hunger for queer stories. I ask if she is excited to keep breaking more boundaries. “I’m always excited about making them. I’m also craving for new fiction and ideas that I get to sit in front of and learn. If the fact that Portrait Of A Lady On Fire has been respected and can help give credit to queer storytellers, it’s a great side effect.” Céline’s eyes light up as she shares her excitement for all the young writers and directors coming in. I ask if she has any advice for young female creatives wanting to thrive in the male dominated film industry. “Choose your partners carefully. It’s a collaborative job. Of course, being a director you have power, it’s not about that. But who’s gonna respect and expand your ideas? Who’s producing you? It’s a strong intimacy and sometimes we think, ‘oh it’s money so it’s not intimacy’, but as it is money, it could not be intimate at all, and it could be damaging for the film. Find someone who respects your ideas and find community.” 

Our time is running to an end so I make sure to ask if she has any upcoming projects that she can tell DIVA readers about. She smiles as she apologises that she cannot share this with me, but rest assured DIVAs, Céline is currently writing so keep your eyes peeled for more cinematic magic hopefully coming soon and for now, enjoy escaping into the healing and fantastical Petite Maman.  

Petite Maman is in cinemas from 19 November

@niccrosara

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