FilmReview

Ama Gloria: A six-year-old clings to her departing nanny in Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq’s affecting drama

Louise Mauroy-Panzani’s uncanny performance keeps us fixated on the child’s psychodrama

lça Moreno Zego and Louise Mauroy-Panzani in Ama Gloria
Ama Gloria
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Director: Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq
Cert: None
Genre: Drama
Starring: Louise Mauroy-Panzani, Ilça Moreno Zego, Arnaud Rebotini
Running Time: 1 hr 25 mins

The Caméra d’Or-winner Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq’s affecting quasi-autobiographical drama is sweetly reminiscent of Céline Sciamma’s childcentric will-o’-the-wisps Petite Maman and My Life as a Courgette. Based on the writer-director’s relationship with her childhood nanny, Ama Gloria concerns Cléo (Louise Mauroy-Panzani), a motherless six-year-old, and her adoration of Gloria (Ilça Moreno Zego), her Cape Verdean carer.

Gloria waves goodbye to her charge at the school gates every morning; she administers a bedtime kiss every night. Gloria, not doting Dad, brings the curly-haired six-year-old to the optician’s, where she is fitted with Coke-bottle glasses.

One day, Gloria receives bad news. Her mother has died, and she’ll have to return home to take care of her own brood, including her pregnant daughter, Fernanda (Abnara Gomes Varela), and surly teenage son, César (Fredy Gomes Tavares). Cléo’s indulgent father (Arnaud Rebotini) offhandedly agrees that the little girl can visit Gloria in Africa, little realising that the stubborn primary-schooler will hold him to his word.

In Lukas Moodysson’s Mammoth and Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny, displaced and commodified maternalism is dramatised as one of capitalism’s most horrific byproducts. Here it’s simultaneously sorrowful and comforting. César’s resentment of his returning mother is matched by Cléo’s jealousy of Gloria’s new grandchild. Nonetheless, both children have a steeliness about them. A determined Cléo shrugs off César’s hostility and traipses after him and his island chums.

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In common with Play, Close and the incoming Armand, the film-maker mines nervous action from watching children play.

It’s tempting to read a colonial narrative in Cléo’s reluctant surrender of the only maternal figure she has ever known. But Louise Mauroy-Panzani’s uncanny performance ensures we’re solely fixated on the child’s psychodrama. When Cléo is caught attempting a dark deed, the young actor breaks down with the assurance of a young grasshopper-killing Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? The cinematographer Inès Tabarin hovers close by, capturing every flicker and nuance.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic