‘Petite Maman’ Ending, Explained: Was Little Marion A Time Traveler?


What will it be like if we get to meet our parents when they are young? “Petite Maman” explores this idea. An impossible idea, yet certainly the kind that would help us understand our parents a lot better than we do. Fragments of memories are not enough to build a person; the distortion of truth is inevitable. “Petite Maman”, directed by Céline Sciamma, takes us on an emotional journey through magic and fantasy. The director manages to talk about time travel without the usual sci-fi elements that we are used to. Simple in its visual, with warm tones at play, “Petite Maman” leaves a lot to the audience’s imagination.

‘Petite Maman’ Plot Summary

The film starts with an eight-year-old little girl bidding goodbye to senior citizens. She enters a room where we watch her mother collect the belongings of the deceased. Nelly lost her grandmother and Marion, her mother. Nelly adored her mother, and in her time of crisis, she fed her mother and hugged her from behind as they drove to Marion’s childhood house. They went to collect the remaining items that were left at the house.

Nelly had heard about a hut that her mother had built when she was of Nelly’s age. She wanted to take a look at it, but Marion was busy with work. Nelly went into the woods; she embraced the wilderness that surrounded her. At night, Marion and Nelly went through the old school copies of Marion. Nelly started to understand how her mother used to be when she was a little girl. As Nelly stored her collection of seeds from the woods, Marion kept hers as well. She added that she too went to the woods that morning. This indicated how she was, in her own way, trying to relive her childhood days.

One morning, Nelly’s father informed her that her mother had left the house. It was her way of dealing with grief. Nelly went into the woods again; she watched a girl her age drag a long branch. She went ahead and helped her. Nelly and the little girl had similar features, be it the shape of their faces or even the texture of their hair. The girl introduced herself as Marion.

See More: ‘Petite Maman’ Review: Celine Sciamma’s Take On Childhood Spent In Loneliness

Who Was The Little Girl? A Ghost, Or A Time Traveler?

Nelly met Marion and the hut that she had previously heard about from her mother. As the rain started pouring down, the girls ran towards little Marion’s house. The house was the same one that Nelly had always known as her grandmother’s place. The bathroom had the same titles and the dining room had a similar setup. Her belief was further strengthened when she quietly peeped inside her grandmother’s room and saw her lying on the bed. Out of disbelief, Nelly decided to leave. The next day, she visited the woods and saw Marion once more. The fact that the events occurring were outside her world did not scare her. She was elated to spend time with her mother as her companion. Marion belonged to a different time; she was an image from the past, or at least that is the conclusion one can draw.

Little Marion’s fears and dreams were boundless; she wanted to become an actor and spoke about her relationship with her mother at times. Nelly was taken aback when she watched her grandmother walk up to her, clenching her walking stick. She had kept her grandmother’s stick with her after her demise. Marion’s childhood was lonely. She was not allowed outside for a long time due to a medical condition. Nelly brightened up her days. They spent hours acting, cooking, and talking.

Before her operation, Nelly surprised Marion by completing her hut. Marion was delighted. They wanted to spend the last day together before Marion’s operation and before Nelly left for town. Nelly decided to finally reveal a secret that she had kept from Marion since the day they met.

Petite Maman Review 2021 French Film Celine Sciamma
Credits: Lilies Films

‘Petite Maman’ Ending Explained

Before revealing the secret, she wanted Marion to promise to believe her. Nelly explained to Marion that she was her daughter. Marion was not surprised; she was curious to learn if Nelly came from the future. Nelly took her to the house where she lived. It was the same house, just older. Marion learned that her mother would die when she was 31. Her mother always made her believe that her death was near. Marion met her future husband when Nelly asked permission from her father to spend the last day with Marion.

The two baked pancakes and giggled the evening away. After slurping down some unpalatable soup made by Marion’s mother, they celebrated Marion’s birthday at midnight. Nelly woke up in her sleep and saw the shadow of a panther in the room, just like the one her mother had described to her before leaving the house. Her mother’s memory from her childhood days was not just in her mind but was now lived by Nelly as well. As Nelly bid goodbye to little Marion, who drove with her mother to the hospital, she walked inside her house to find Marion, her mother. Marion returned home to take one last look at the house that was filled with memories, before leaving it forever. Nelly looked at her mother and said, “Marion”, the mother smiled and embraced and replied, “Nelly”. The smile on her mother’s face indicated a certain knowledge of the memories they shared in the last few days. On the night that the little girls stayed together, Marion said that she was already thinking of the day she would meet her daughter. The union of the mother and daughter, in the end, reminds one of the mother’s longing to meet the child. Nelly was able to learn why her mother was often surrounded by an air of sadness. Her childhood days were gloomy and mostly spent alone. She feared the death of her mother often, as her mother made it a point to make her believe so. Before leaving for the hospital, Nelly had confessed how she felt that she was the reason for her mother’s unhappy existence. Little Marion assured Nelly that she could never make her sad, she was not the reason behind her unhappiness. As a little girl, Marion was able to comprehend how she, as an adult, was pushing Nelly towards the same loneliness that she felt as a child.

The union of the mother and child, in the end, confirms a certain understanding of the mistakes and guilt. They develop an understanding of being partners and express the significance of their existence in each other’s lives. The disappearance of Marion could be her way of lamenting the loss of her childhood that the house reminded her of. The adult Marion could have traveled back in time to reveal her childhood days to her daughter. Though such an understanding is left for the audience to decide, the fluidity of the conclusion is what makes “Petite Maman” all the more immersive.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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