“Ama Gloria,” the sophomore feature by Marie Amachoukeli, is a thoughtful drama that examines the intricate dynamics of affective labor and transnational mobility, embodied in the poignant narrative of a nanny and a little girl. The film, which opened the Critics’ Week section at the Cannes Film Festival 2023, is an achievement of cinematic storytelling and emotional intelligence.
The film centers on Cléo (Louise Mauroy-Panzani), a six-year-old girl who lives with her affluent parents in Paris. She has a close and intense relationship with her nanny Gloria (Ilça Moreno Zego), who migrated to France and left her own children behind in Cape Verde, the West African island nation. Gloria is not only a domestic worker for Cléo; she is also a maternal figure, a companion, and an educator.
But their bond is disrupted when Gloria has to return to Cape Verde after her mother’s death. She also has to confront her own family, who have lived without her presence and support for years. Cléo is heartbroken by Gloria’s departure and feels rejected and betrayed. She doesn’t comprehend why Gloria has chosen to abandon her.
The film alternates between Paris and Cape Verde, showing the stark contrast between the two worlds that Gloria navigates. In Paris, she works for a privileged family that respects her but doesn’t fully acknowledge her sacrifices. In Cape Verde, she reconnects with her culture and tries to realize her dream of opening a small hotel for tourists. She also has to deal with her daughter’s pregnancy and her son’s anger.
The film also depicts how Cléo copes with Gloria’s absence. She becomes isolated and rebellious and starts to act out at school and at home. She also develops envy toward Gloria’s children, who get to reclaim their mother.
The film is inspired by Amachoukeli’s own experience of growing up with a Filipino nanny. She portrays the characters with empathy and realism, avoiding stereotypes and clichés. She also captures the emotions of the actors with close-ups and naturalistic dialogue.
As a film that shows the effects of transnational labor on the lives of women like Gloria, who have to leave their families behind to care for others, “Ama Gloria” is part of a larger cinematic discourse on the complex intersection of work, migration, and childcare in different parts of the world — in this case, the historical and contemporary realities of migration between French Africa and France, as well as the social and economic inequalities that shape these realities.
These realities are also reflected in other films that have portrayed similar themes from different perspectives. For example, “Samba” (2014) by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano follows the struggles of an undocumented Senegalese immigrant who works as a dishwasher in Paris while trying to obtain legal status. “Fatima” (2015) by Philippe Faucon depicts the life of a Moroccan single mother who works as a cleaning lady in Lyon while raising two daughters who are more integrated into French society than she is. Even “Bande de filles” (“Girlhood,” 2014) by Céline Sciamma, which explores the identity crisis of a teenage girl from an abusive family who joins a group of rebellious girls from different African backgrounds.
“Ama Gloria” contributes to this discourse by offering a nuanced and complex portrayal of the affective bonds that are formed and broken between nannies and their charges, as well as between nannies and their own children. The film does not shy away from showing the difficulties and dilemmas that these women face but also celebrates their resilience and agency. It also highlights the emotional impact that these relationships have on the children involved, both positively and negatively.
“Ama Gloria” is not merely a story about Cléo and Gloria but a reflection on a broader societal narrative. The portrayal of Cléo’s deep bond with Gloria, their separation, and its aftermath serve as a thoughtful commentary on the personal and societal costs of transnational labor.
“Ama Gloria” opened the Critics’ Week section at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.
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