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‘Petite Maman’: Like mother, like daughter

They say that great things come in small packages. In just 73 minutes, French film “Petite Maman” (translated “Little Mom”), directed by Céline Sciamma, tells a touching story of motherhood and memory.

The film follows eight-year-old Nelly, right after her maternal grandmother passes away. Nelly and her parents go to the grandmother’s old house in the countryside to move her things, and this is where they discover Nelly’s mother Marion’s old school books and toys. The film envelopes you in the clean coziness characteristic of a grandmother’s house, replete with butter cookie tins filled with sewing paraphernalia and quaint, floral wallpaper.

As they’re in the process of packing up the house, Marion goes back to the city for a few days, leaving Nelly with her father. Though it’s unclear why Marion is going away, Nelly feels nervous and sad in her mother’s absence and wonders if she is the reason why Marion is often unhappy.

While her mother is gone, Nelly begins to play in the woods alone near the house. Her imagination is captured by stories that her mother told her about the huts she used to build out of tree branches when she was growing up. The film’s cinematography is gorgeous, with the fall colors in the picturesque forest and the whimsical decor of the grandmother’s house. As she plays in the woods, Nelly encounters another little girl who looks remarkably similar to her, and they become instant playmates in the way that only eight year olds can.

Over the course of the film, Sciamma’s brilliant magical realism reveals itself. Nelly’s new playmate is Marion — except not her thirty-one year old self stressed by the pressures of motherhood and modern life. This is Marion as she would have been at eight-years-old. Nelly and little Marion make hot chocolate together, explore the woods and go over to each others’ houses to play elaborate games where they pretend to be countesses and inspectors.

At little Marion’s house, Nelly meets her grandmother as a middle-aged woman and tries not to flinch with shock. Nelly is able to relive memories with her grandmother and say a proper “au revoir” now that she has been given the opportunity. 

Through the film’s delicate time-bending and intentionally simple storytelling, we are able to fill in the gaps ourselves. In an interview, Sciamma said: “I did not put too much detail about the life of the characters in it. It’s not about how they feel … it’s about how we feel. Even if you have a good relationship or bad relationship with your parents, you don’t have to fit in with the film, the film will adapt to you.” For me, the film was a delightful way to remember all the stories my mother has told me about her childhood — playing hide and seek with kids in her neighborhood — but for others, like my friend who was in tears beside me during the screening, the film can be a poignant exploration of loss.

As I was watching Nelly and Marion during the film’s long and often silent takes, I realized that “Petite Maman” really encapsulates the different mother-daughter media I turn to for comfort. It embodies the same idealism of “Gilmore Girls” that in essence is about the tension and joy of mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory being friends in a picture-perfect, small American town. It also echoes the themes of A24’s “Lady Bird” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once” that focus on the angst and pain of daughters trying to live up to their mother’s expectations and make them happy. The wise eight year old Marion answers all of Nelly’s anxieties in a tender scene where she simply says, “You didn’t invent my sadness”.

Title: “Petite Maman”

Starring: Josephine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse

Director: Céline Sciamma

If you like: “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” “Boyhood,” “Lady Bird”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

Contact Angela Mathew at amathew3@nd.edu.

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‘Only Murders in the Building’: Killer Comeback

There’s a blackout across New York City. In the Arconia apartment complex, a murder investigation is occurring. And during all of this, the building’s residents come together for one moment and sing. This is “Only Murders in the Building.” There’s murder, there’s mystery, but what stands out most is the cast of characters and how they deal with the chaos they find themselves in. Though the episode had suspenseful moments and revelations for the investigation, the moment that stands out most is how the background characters interact and expand beyond just one-note personalities into complex characters with hopes and goals of their own. What’s even better is how these characters return throughout the season to help solve the mystery underlying the show. 

The show centers on Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez), all residents in the New York apartment complex, “The Arconia.” In the first season, Mabel’s childhood friend Tim Konos is found dead in his apartment, leading the three to unite over their shared interest in murder-mystery podcasts and start their own. The trio, despite all odds, make not only a great team unit, but great investigators, too. After a night of celebration over the arrest of Tim’s killer, the three get a mysterious text and find a dead body in Mabel’s apartment: their neighbor Bunny Folger, the owner of the building. The second season picks up on this thread, with the main trio investigating the killing, while defending their reputations from rival podcaster Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) and the crooked Detective Kreps (Michael Rapaport). These five aren’t the only characters the show takes time to know, however. In fact, every character, no matter how small, feels developed in such a way that they have a life outside of their purpose in the story. This is one of my favorite aspects of the show.

In the first season, the question “who killed Tim Konos?” carries much of the plot, but the second season places less emphasis on the actual murder and more on a wider theme of family. Family remains a clear theme that runs through the season, with all three central characters confronting their own fears and obstacles: Oliver worries about the results of a DNA test; Charles confronts the meaning of fatherhood as mysteries towards his own father arise coinciding with the arrival of his former partner’s daughter, someone who viewed him as a father figure himself; Mabel confronts her unhealthy coping mechanisms regarding death and negative emotions that rose from her own father’s death. Through all of these subplots, new revelations arise that lead the investigators to new evidence, no matter how unlikely they seem. The mystery is not impossible to solve, but it is not so clear that one could solve it from the season’s start: the show makes a point to have the audience learn and connect the pieces in the same ways the characters do. Twists are surprising, yet always rooted in information that was already known: the twist comes from solving the puzzle, not learning something unknown to the audience entirely. 

The show balances great character moments with an overarching mystery. Even when the show feels like it’s meandering or abandoning the mystery in favor of character moments that are unrelated to the wider picture, the show ties it all together with such skill it never feels forced or unfounded: every reveal is justified and has some foundation to stand on. The show is not only a great mystery, but also a masterful character-driven comedy, carried by the performances of Short, Martin and Gomez, along with the writing that provides them with great material. Whether you’re looking for a laugh or a chance to play Sherlock, you can’t go wrong with “Only Murders in the Building.”

Show: “Only Murders in the Building”

Starring: Steve Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez, Tina Fey

Favorite Episodes: “The Tell,” “Hello Darkness,” “I Know Who Did It”

If you like: “The Afterparty,” “Knives Out”

Where to watch: Hulu

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Andy Ottone

Contact Andy at aottone@nd.edu

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‘Hit the Road’: An Iranian road trip tragicomedy

The star of Panah Panahi’s “Hit the Road” is the family’s young son, played by Rayan Sarlak. His annoying antics and entertaining quips keep this slow, meditative story about a family’s separation moving forward.

Although a lot of the details of the situation in this Iranian film are kept intentionally vague, it follows a family: an endearingly grouchy father with a broken leg, the practical, sarcastic mother, their adult son Farid, their younger son around 7 years old and their aging dog on a road trip through Iran.

This is not a family vacation, however — they’re on this journey to get Farid to the Iran-Turkey border where he will cross over and start a new life. The film alludes to the fact that Farid is fleeing the tenuous authoritarian regime of Iran and that the family has sold their house in order to fund the son’s passage. 

The parents are worried about leaving their older son and the uncertainty of not knowing when they’ll be able to see him next, but they express it through sarcasm. Not just because they can’t face the separation, but because they need to keep the truth about Farid’s escape hidden from their younger son so he doesn’t give them away. The younger son is blissfully unaware of the nature of this road trip, whining about having to leave his cell phone behind and confused by his family’s constant suspicion that someone is following them as they drive. 

The film reminds us that families everywhere, even ones struggling under undemocratic regimes, are funny, complex and ultimately the same. Sarlak’s portrayal of the annoying child on a road trip is hilarious. He draws on the car’s window in red permanent marker out of boredom, he pokes his head out of the sun roof and dances to old-timey Farsi music, he says hello to cyclists on the road and the family has to give one a lift when he falls off his bike from the distraction. 

The most beautiful scene of the film is when Farid is finally getting on a motorbike to cover the last stretch to the border. Panahi films it from far away so the family appears tiny in this lush, green valley in the countryside. You can hear the mother fussing over Farid, but you can’t see the anguish on her face. To their right, the father hobbles around and ties their younger son to a tree as he screams and throws a tantrum, not knowing that could be the last time he’ll see his brother for a while. 

Director Panah Panahi is the son of Jafar Panahi, an award-winning auteur who has claimed prizes at film festivals ranging from Venice to Berlin for satirical films like “Taxi” and “Offside.” As of 2013, Jafar had been placed under house arrest and is forbidden from making any films by the government. This hasn’t deterred him, though, and “This Is Not a Film,” shot on a cell phone in his house, was actually smuggled to the Cannes Film Festival on a USB drive hidden inside a cake. As of July 2022, Panahi — along with Mohammad Rasoulof, another Iranian director — has been arrested for calling the Iranian government out for cracking down on citizens protesting corruption.

“Hit the Road” is Panah Panahi’s debut, and the film artfully reflects this political atmosphere in the country while maintaining a sense of humor. It also gives you the sense that this is a reflection of Panahi’s own family — where his father’s filmmaking would have left them in a constant but undefined state of stress about the regime. 

Title: “Hit the Road”

Starring: Rayan Sarlak, Pantea Panahiha, Hassan Majooni

Director: Panah Panahi

If you liked: “Argo,” “A Hero,” ”There Is No Evil”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

Angela Mathew

Contact Angela at amathew3@nd.edu