Two foreign language picks for grown-ups feature stories of children

‘Petite Maman’ and ‘The Innocents’ offer two very different takes

Brad Keefe
“Petite Maman”

In a week when “Multiverse of Madness” is probably going to continue to dominate theaters, I’ve got two recommendations that are very different from that experience.

This week, two foreign language art-house films centered on children open in Columbus theaters. The two also couldn’t be more different — though both are well worth seeing.

“Petite Maman” is a critically praised French fantasy from Céline Sciamma, director of “Portrait of a Woman on Fire.” “The Innocents” is Norwegian supernatural creeper from writer-director Eskil Vogt, who co-wrote last year’s truly fantastic “The Worst Person in the World.”

The films are on different ends of the spectrum in tone but could make for an adventurous double-feature this weekend.

“Petit Maman” stars a delightful Joséphine Sanz as Nelly, an 8-year-old girl who recently lost her maternal grandmother. Her mother (Nina Meurisse) and father (Stéphane Varupenne) return to her grandmother’s childhood home to clean out her things.

When she’s playing in the woods, Nelly meets a girl her own age named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) building a fort. They become fast friends, but Nelly soon learns they have a deeper connection.

“The Innocents” involves a group of small children in a Norwegian town. Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum) lives with her autistic, nonverbal sister, Ann (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad). Ida has a level of sibling annoyance with Ann, but also a bit of a cruel streak that manifests in her sharply pinching her sister, who doesn’t react.

Then there’s Ben (Sam Ashraf), who has an even crueler streak after being bullied for being raised by a single mom. Ben also possesses special powers that reveal a connection among the children.

Obviously, these are two very different feels. “Petite Maman” is a touching film about grief, childhood and the bonds shared with parents. “The Innocents” is decidedly darker (and contains some disturbing moments), particularly in its views of children.

But what they both have in common are the remarkable performances from child actors. These performances are the glue that holds these films together.

“The Innocents,” in particular, would have been a different film with lesser actors. Vogt shows great talent in directing these performances through some dark moments.

Of course, it’s also hard to watch children acting as villains. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Vogt said, “We still like to think that kids are pure angels. I think we need to face that the opposite is true.”

So, yes, “The Innocents” can be a bit dark, but it’s also a gripping experience.

“Petite Maman” is easier to recommend to a wide audience. Sciamma handles the themes delicately, using the fantasy aspects in a poignant way and wrapping the whole thing up in a tidy, 72-minute package. Short movie fans should rejoice.

Both films offer some respite from the upcoming blast of summer blockbusters, and a great chance to support your local independent theaters.

“Petite Maman”

Now playing at the Drexel Theatre and Gateway Film Center

4 stars out of 5

“The Innocents”

Now playing at Gateway Film Center

4 stars out of 5