in ,

Cannes 2023: Ama Gloria Is a Tender Coming-of-Age Tale

Image Courtesy of Semaine de la Critiques

Ama Gloria, the opening film of the Semaine de la Critiques at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is a tender little coming-of-age story from first-time director Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq that bears more than a few superficial similarities to another French film premiering in competition at this year’s festival, Catherine Corsini’s Homecoming. Both films follow nannies struggling with the demands of raising their own children as well as their young charges, travelling across the sea and returning to their homelands. Both feature the deaths of parents and children struggling with the ambivalence that the lack of memories of those parents bring them. But the two films take very different looks at these analogous scenarios, with Ama Gloria instead choosing to focus on Cleo (Louise Mauroy-Panzani) the six-year-old ward of Gloria (Ilca Moreno) whose world is turned upside down when Gloria’s mother dies, demanding that she return home to Cape Verde to take over looking after her children, one of whom is about to make a grandmother of her and oversee construction of the restaurant her family has been saving up to buy.

All this turbulence in Gloria’s life means little to young Cleo, though: to her, she’s losing the only mother she’s ever known, her mum having died when she was too young to remember. She has a dad, but he’s often away and as Cleo says “all [her] memories are of [Gloria]”. So the idea that another family has a stronger claim on Gloria than she does is unthinkable to her still developing mind. She feels entitled to a mother and Gloria’s the only one she’s ever had, and she insists that she be allowed to visit Gloria at her home and spend the summer in Cape Verde. Cleo’s short-sightedness is an on the nose metaphor for her child’s inability to see beyond her own wants, and her possessiveness may have potentially tragic consequences.

Cleo’s myopia is not an attribute one could attribute to the film, which finds room to explore the perspective and predicament of each of its main characters. It would have been easy to have made Cleo’s absentee father Arnaud (Arnaud Rebotini) into a miserable, neglectful father, and yes, a little more attention from him might have gone a long way. Maybe he’s gotten a little too used to offloading childcare onto a hired assistant, but he’s a single parent who lost his wife and perhaps found respite from that pain in his work, whatever that is. In his scenes with Cleo, he’s an attentive and loving parent, just one that can’t be around 24/7. Perhaps the film would’ve benefited from a tighter focus on Cleo’s experience, at least in the first half, so we might have the opportunity to share in her distress and confusion at the prospect of losing her primary caregiver, without having it undercut by our adult perspective. But as is, Ama Gloria is still reasonably effective at this, even if it does move a little too fast at times.

Cleo’s not the only difficult child Gloria has to contend with though, her daughter (Abnara Gomez Varela) is pregnant and ready to give birth any day, a newborn she’s all too happy to pass parental duties for onto Gloria—admittedly, just as Gloria evidently once did for her mother. Meanwhile, Gloria’s teenage son Cesar (Fredy Gomes Tavares) is not at all happy with her for abandoning them with their grandmother, flying thousands of miles away and then expecting him to respect her as his mother when she returns because she has been forced to. The performances of all the young actors do a phenomenal job of conveying these emotions and adding flesh to their situation, though the real backbone of the film is unquestionably Mauroy-Panzani, whose performance is so utterly committed and authentic that its easy to lose yourself in wondering how they got such a performance from someone so young.

At only 83 minutes, Ama Gloria doesn’t have a lot of time to spend building arcs for secondary characters, but it still does a very effective job of conveying the relationships between its characters quickly and clearly, and still find room for some dream sequences and flashbacks conveyed through some simple yet absolutely beautiful animation, adding a fragrant touch of adult magic-realism to the film’s matter of fact tone. This is the kind of thing I might have appreciated more of, to lend the film more richness and texture, as it is a very simple and to the-point film at present, though this is just as likely to be seen as a positive by some audiences. For my interest, I think Ama Gloria could’ve benefited from either a more acute focus on Cleo’s emotions or a broader scope exploring more of its characters. It’s hard to feel what Cleo feels when the needs of the other characters are placed so present in your mind, but nor are those needs explored in much detail or depth. It’s still a very tender, sensitive little film though and one that will find its enthusiastic champions with whom it will resonate very deeply.

Written by Hal Kitchen

A graduate of the University of Kent, Reviews Editor Hal Kitchen joined Film Obsessive as a freelance writer in May 2020 following their postgraduate studies in Film with a specialization in Gender Theory and Studies. In November 2020 Hal assumed their role as Reviews Editor. Since then, Hal has written extensively for the site, writing analytical and critical pieces on film, and has represented the site at international film festivals including The London Film Festival and Panic Fest.

Leave a Reply

Film Obsessive welcomes your comments. All submissions are moderated. Replies including personal attacks, spam, and other offensive remarks will not be published. Email addresses will not be visible on published comments.

Man and a woman seen from the backs of their heads looking at Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring

Close to Vermeer Uncovers the Painter’s Mysteries

(L-R): Sophie Thatcher as Sadie Harper and Vivien Lyra Blair as Sawyer Harper in 20th Century Studios' THE BOOGEYMAN. Two young ladies clutching one another in terror, bathed in red light. Photo by Patti Perret. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The Boogeyman Is Enjoyably Predictable