Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | January 25th, 2024
àma Gloria (Marie Amachoukeli, 2023) 4 out of 5 stars*
In àma Gloria, her solo-feature directorial debut, French filmmaker Marie Amachoukeli (Party Girl) creates an affecting meditation on love and loss, as seen through the eyes of its two central characters, the one a 6-year-old girl, the other a woman approaching middle age. Cléo is the younger; she lost her mother from cancer back before she can remember. Gloria, from Cape Verde, has been her nanny since forever and is an integral part of her life. However, when Gloria’s own mother passes away, this forces a sudden change, for Gloria must return to Cape Verde to care for the children she left behind.
This news proves devastating to Cléo, who has never known any other maternal figure. Though Cléo’s father is a loving parent, his work often keeps him away for long hours, which means that losing Gloria will hit Cléo especially hard. But Gloria also has hopes and dreams outside of her role in Cléo’s life, made more urgent by her need to go home. Nevertheless, she graciously invites the girl to join her in Cape Verde for the summer holidays. After some initial reluctance, Cléo’s father agrees to send his daughter for one final farewell.
The bond between Cléo and Gloria is strong, as we see in the early scenes, filled with joyful exuberance. But back in Cape Verde, Cléo is no longer the center of Gloria’s attention. There, Gloria has her teenage daughter, Fernanda (who goes by Nanda), and tween son, César, to mind, and they are very much in need of a mother, no matter how much they view Gloria with the skepticism accorded an absent parent. Nanda, for example, is pregnant, and César prone to sullen moods, often glaring at Cléo, whom he sees as nothing more than a French interloper.
In the main roles, Louise Mauroy-Panzani, as Cléo, and Ilça Moreno Zego, as Gloria, both shine, not only individually but as a pair, their onscreen relationship wholly believable. The story has layers beyond their interactions, involving race (Cléo is white, while Gloria is Black), class, and culture. Amachoukeli dives deep into the complexity of the interpersonal and interfamily dynamics, some of which are based on her childhood experiences with her own nanny (to whom she dedicates the film), delivering a nuanced take on the many issues at play. The result is a story as deep as it is engaging.
Cinematographer Inès Tabarin (Caledonia) does a lovely job photographing the island scenery. Complementing her efforts is a series of beautifully animated sequences, used both for moments of transition and high drama. It’s a fine mix, the one set of images combining well with the others.
As sad as the eventual conclusion must be, there are many moments of profound emotion, happy and fraught, along the way. Cléo and Gloria must each learn to live without the other, a lesson perhaps more bitter for the girl but no less difficult for the woman. àma Gloria is consistently heartfelt, moving in every part. The tears it generates are real, and there’s nothing better than genuine feeling.
[àma Gloria had its world premiere as part of the 2023 Semaine de la Critique at the Cannes Film Festival and now just played the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in the Spotlight Program.]
*Starting in 2024, all Film Festival Today reviews will now be rated out of 5 stars, rather than the previous 4-star system.