Marie Amachoukeli Discusses ‘Ama Gloria’

Marie Amachoukeli Discusses ‘Ama Gloria’

In “Àma Gloria,” directed by Marie Amachoukeli, childhood is the domain of formative gains and losses. After opening this year’s Cannes Critics’ Week, the film screened as part of the Meet the Neighbors+ competition at the Thessaloniki Film Festival. Amachoukeli previously co-directed “Party Girl,” which won Cannes’ Camera d’Or in 2014.

“Àma Gloria” introduces us to six-year-old Cléo (Louise Mauroy-Panzani), who lives in Paris with her widower dad Arnaud (Arnaud Rebotini) and her nanny Gloria (Ilça Moreno Zego). A blissfully constructed day-to-day routine keeps the world in order until one day Gloria has to return to her Cape Verdean family. In preparation to leave France for good, she invites Cléo to spend the summer with her in Cape Verde.

“Àma Gloria” unfolds as an exploration of childhood through the eyes of its young protagonist. Reviewing the film for Variety, critic Jessica Kiang called it “a debut made dazzling by an astonishingly intricate performance from its six-year-old star.” The film is produced by Bénédicte Couvreur of Lilies Films, the company behind Cèline Sciamma’s gem “Petite Maman.”

Speaking to Variety, Amachoukeli – who is French, of Georgian descent – shared that after years of writing for other filmmakers, she decided to revisit a personal relationship she had with her childhood nanny who now lives in Portugal. “The first thing she said when I called her was, ‘How are you, daughter?’ After all these years, she still calls me that.”

In order to channel the complexities of that bond, Amachoukeli wrote a concise 70-page script which assumed Cléo’s point of view entirely. But when she met Ilça Moreno Zego, a Parisian nanny with three children of her own back in Cape Verde, the director decided to incorporate her story as Gloria’s. “I also decided to shoot in the village she was born in, with her family and friends.” On site, the small crew then employed locals to keep it tight and authentic.

On meeting Mauroy-Panzani, Amachoukeli realized they shared a special connection. “We felt a bit the same,” she says. “It was like she was 89 years old. She’s a very good listener and full of empathy, which are pretty good qualities for an actor to have. She knew all her lines and understood far more than I ever said. She was smarter than I was, really.”

“Àma Gloria” is driven entirely by Cléo’s ambivalent feelings toward Gloria’s departure and the fact she has children of her own. “I think it’s craziness, not bravery, to shoot with a child,” says Amachoukeli. But she means it in the best possible way. “It’s four hours a day, but five weeks of shooting and being alert. So you have to have fun with her somehow.” The constraint of having no rehearsals helped since they “had to be in the present, together with the child and to listen to her.” A professional was there on set to mitigate that actor-director relationship, as it was important “that she had a very good friend on set, an adult to help her work. Because it is work, after all.”

For Amachoukeli, it was “quite obvious that the camera had to be placed in Cléo’s point of view.” Crafting an intimate world of close-ups and rack focus with DP Inès Tabarin was a search for poetic truth. The director describes childhood as “the first time for everything — love, defeat, anger, jealousy, hurt — and you learn how to swim, how to breathe, everything is so intense. It was important to translate that intensity in terms of film language.”

A special addition to the film world consists of enchanting brush-stroke animation sequences. Their style and bright colors are directly linked with Cléo’s inner life. “She doesn’t really express feelings or fear as we adults do. In order to go deeper into her feelings, I chose animation.” Together with illustrator Pierre-Emmanuel Lyet, they found inspiration in two whimsical artists: Félix Vallotton and Peter Doig. Then, a team of 20 animators spent one year hand-painting every frame using an ancient technique, which prolonged post-production. “I had to edit the movie without the animation bits, without knowing if it was going to work, actually. I had to trust the process.” This is what Amachoukeli calls “artisanal cinema — the movies made by hand, between a few friends, like at the dawn of cinema.”

After “Àma Gloria,” the French director hopes to finish a black-and-white animation feature she’s been working on for 10 years. While she admits she enjoyed a director’s role, she still doesn’t completely align with it. “My job still is being a writer and consulting on films. If I have something worth saying, I will direct again.”

The Thessaloniki Film Festival ran Nov. 2 – 12.

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