Céline Sciamma’s Quest for a New, Feminist Grammar of Cinema

In subtle, unpredictable ways, the French director is determined to move beyond received ideas of filmmaking.
Cline Sciamma.
Filmmakers, Sciamma says, learn “that conflict is the natural dynamic of the storyteller.” She wants to move beyond that.Photographs by Paul Rousteau for The New Yorker


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For most of November, 2020, the director Céline Sciamma didn’t have any lamps in her apartment. They were all on the set of her fifth film, “Petite Maman.” Each day, she got ready before sunrise, leaving her Paris apartment in the dark. One morning when she was running late, she rushed into her room and hit something with her foot. It hurt, a lot, but she put on her shoes and hurried to the set, where she sat around for three hours, waiting for everyone else to be ready. Suddenly, she heard a familiar, uneven step behind her: that of her maternal grandmother, Marie-Paule Chiron, who walked with a limp and who had been dead for six years. Sciamma jumped from her chair, remembering too late her injured foot. Instinctively, she reached for the closest support: a silver-topped walking stick that had belonged to Marie-Paule.

The limping woman toward whom Sciamma was limping was, in fact, the actor Margot Abascal, playing a character based on Marie-Paule and wearing the same kind of corrective shoes that she had worn. Though the likeness was one Sciamma herself had gone to considerable trouble to produce, it struck her with unexpected force. She experienced a kind of intergenerational vertigo, a blurring of past and present, of fiction and reality: a slippage that runs like a thread through her life and work.