Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 15, 2024 2:19 pm 
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Nanny love

In this sweetly emotional but deceptively complex film, Marie Amachoukeli goes deep in exploring the relationship between a six-year-old French girl, Cléo (Louise Mauroy-Panzani), and her Cape Verdean nanny, Gloria (Ilça Moreno Zego), whom she will have to give up, even though she still needs a nanny and will get a new one.

We see how close they are, how they delight in each other. Then, Gloria gets a call that summons her back to the islands - for good, because her own mother has died and she is needed to raise her own still-young son, César (Fredy Gomes Tavares), and be there to help her grown daughter, Nanda (Abnara Gomes Varela), who is soon going to give birth. The separation is difficult for both Gloria and Cléo. Cléo has taken the place of César and, from the look of things later, was easier and more a delight than César might have been.

At the parting Cléo's papa, Arnaud (Arnaud Rebotini) has perhaps rashly said he will think about the possibility of letting the little girl go and visit Gloria in the summertime. Cléo is a curly-haired, bespectacled waif who makes little impression at first. The young actress, Mauroy-Panzani, reveals remarkable presence and range. There is already fire in Cléo's loins as she plays her. Cléo's rapport with her father is easygoing and warm. But he succumbs to her rage at the suspicion of a betrayed promise.

He didn't promise; he said he'd think about it. But things progress rapidly with a girl who's main love has been her nanny. And so she goes. How does the father of a six-year-old French girl send her off by herself to an archipelago off the coast of West Africa?

This remarkable visit is the focus here. Nanda has her baby, a boy named Santiago: we see his christening, see César hold him, hear him cry - a lot. We meet lots of others, including the boys who play soccer and run around on the beach. Another thing: there is a cliff, and the boys dive off it. The bank at shore is so steep a younger boy returning from his first dive thinks he won't be able to climb out.

The events in Cape Verde start gradually to show the darker, more dangerous side of Cléo's intensity. It's not simple, this story. Cléo looks nerdy, and is cut off a little by her thick glasses, but she's very outgoing and not only stubborn but fearless. She tries to join the boys playing soccer, and that isn't the only one of their games she eventually joins.

César doesn't say so much, but what he says bites. He lets slip how much he not only resents Cléo but also Gloria, the mother he was deprived of and the child who received the attention and affection due to him, for money. Yes, for money; but the love between child and nanny seems untainted by the financial transaction.

And yet there is something possessive, arguably colonial, in Cléo's intense claim on Gloria. But that is also partly a falsification because her feelings are loving and pure. It's just the external aspect of the relationship, the status, that is contractual and financial at base, and what it develops into has seemed authentic and warmly felt. Wait till Cléo leaves Cape Verde for Gloria's reaction and you'll see. It's complicated.

César, who is already trying to join the sharp, adventurous boys who seem to grow up so fast here, is no villain. As proof, when Santiago comes, he's happy, and we begin to see a bright smile, even toward Cléo. The film does a pretty good job in its short runtime of showing how much Cléo adapts to the tropical world, and the places where she remains outside it; the accumulation of strange experiences, the playing boys, the crying baby, the christening, that Cléo will treasure but will also separate her, make her begin to accept that Gloria doesn't belong to her, any more than the lullaby sung to Santiago does, though it was once sung to her. And other things are going on with Gloria too. She is having a hotel built that she needs finished for the tourist season. (It isn't going so well; but she finds a solution.)

As Jessica Kiang says in her Cannes Variety review, the loose, pleasingly rough brush-painted animations seem a bit superfluous, till at a key moment toward the end they provide a useful, perhaps even essential, function to lighten a moment and keep it from being something out of an action thriller and more from the world of childhood fantasy and passion that Cléo belongs to.

This is an unusually full look at the world of a child, one in which the child is as real and earthy as sunburn and sweat. The camera of Inès Tabarin is essential in creating the sense of closeness and smallness, things happening closer to the ground, though the emotions soar.

Àma Gloria (originally [i]àma Gloria[/i[), 84 mins., debuted in Cannes Critics' Week May 17, 2023, showing also at Brussels, Jerusalem, New Zealand, Melbourne, Zurich, London, and other international festivals including Sundance Jan. 2024. The French theatrical release was on Aug. 30, 2023, with AlloCiné press rating 4.0 (80%); spectators 3.8 (76%). Screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York (Feb. 29-Mar. 10, 2024. Showtimes:
Saturday, March 2 at 3:45pm (Q&A with Marie Amachoukeli)
Thursday, March 7 at 1:30pm

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