The complex plights of migrant women who leave homes and children seeking means to provide for them have rarely been addressed with the sensitivity and delicateness of Àma Gloria, which looks at it through a new lens: a six-year-old French girl, Cléo (Louise Mauroy-Panzani), who has to come to terms with the abrupt departure of her beloved nanny Gloria (Ilça Moreno Zego).

Cléo has no recollection of the mother she lost to cancer years before. The only maternal figure she knows is Gloria, the Cape Verdean woman who looks after her while her father (Arnaud Rebotini) is at work. Cléo’s world revolves around Gloria, who feeds her, showers her with affection, and helps shape the way she looks at life. The love between them is undeniable, but Cléo has no idea Gloria had a life far away from her. How could she? Children don’t understand the dynamics of work or things like migration. Upon receiving the news her mother died, Gloria is forced to return to Cape Verde to look after the kids left behind.

Cléo is devastated, but Gloria’s decision is final and necessary. Her mother’s death will help her reclaim a life beyond the little girl. The bond between them is strong, but it can never be stronger than Gloria’s love for her children, something almost unspeakably ugly to say. Gloria offers to take the little girl with her to Cape Verde for the summer and soften the blow. 

For Cléo, Cape Verde feels like visiting another planet. She innocently comments on the small size of Gloria’s house and feels threatened by the impending arrival of Gloria’s grandchild. Gloria, meanwhile, has to form new bonds with her children: the pregnant Fernanda (Abnara Gomes Varela), and the young César (Fredy Gomes Tavares), for whom Gloria is practically a stranger. They have all lost a mother.

In her solo debut, director Marie Amachoukeli sets up a story that can be explored through ethical, sentimental, moral, racial, and legal lenses. But that is up for the viewer to decide; rather than exploring all possible ramifications, Amachoukeli focuses on telling the story she knows how to tell. The film is dedicated to her nanny, Lorinda, a Portuguese woman who, for reasons unknown to her, suddenly left one day, leaving her heartbroken.

The dedication reminded me of Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s love letter to the indigenous woman who raised him. But for every project like Cuarón and Amachoukeli’s, there are countless women of color who will never be celebrated or remembered. Who will always remain anonymous, despite having made the ultimate sacrifice to take care of their children. Amachoukeli’s approach is admirable: if Cléo is her avatar, she doesn’t give the little girl adult wisdom, and she doesn’t make any excuses for her selfish behavior. 

Cléo is driven by fear of abandonment and jealousy, emotions that feel like they’re tearing through our bodies when we first experience them. She becomes aware of an ugliness that lives within her but justifies it––having Gloria back means the world to her. Mauroy-Panzani gives an incredible performance, allowing Cléo to travel seamlessly between anger, fear, love, and joy. She goes through growing pains that will shape the rest of her life, and the young actor embodies them with an honesty that makes you want to look away.

Gloria is in pain, too, and Zego is brilliant at modulating the mixed feelings she experiences as the little girl she loves becomes an intruder in her home. Why can’t Cléo grow up the way her children were forced to when she had to leave them? The love story at the center of Àma Gloria feels more tragic than any tale of romance. We witness two women who love each other dealing with the end of their time together, each one going through a different kind of heartbreak while sharing the violent pain of being separated. This film ends the only way it can: a definitive goodbye, bruised hearts. Amachoukeli knows there isn’t a version of life where pain doesn’t exist, and with Àma Gloria she offers an unadorned warning––a place of refuge for when we need it. 

Àma Gloria premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Grade: B

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