Ida Panahandeh’s Titi is a character study about an Iranian Roma woman caught between two unworthy men in a society controlled by men.
Titi is currently streaming across the US until May 23 at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival. Tickets are available here. The film does not have US distribution so this may be the only chance to see it.
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Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq’s Àma Gloria, her first feature as a solo filmmaker (she co-directed 2014’s Party Girl) is a touching, sentimental film about the bond between a young French girl, Cléo (Louise Mauroy-Panzani), and her nanny from Cape Verde, Gloria (Ilça Morena). Cléo’s mother died years before, and Gloria moved to France to earn a living to support her two children back home, whom she now hardly knows. Told mostly from Cléo’s perspective, Amachoukeli-Barsacq keeps the camera low at her sightline, often with shallow focus, as she’s someone still discovering the world.
When Gloria’s mother dies unexpectedly, Gloria must return home to her family in Cape Verde, severing the mother-daughter-like bond she has with Cléo. But before they say goodbye forever, Cléo spends a summer with Gloria in Cape Verde.
Dropping into an unknown world
Cléo’s naivety about her surroundings means that Amachoukeli-Barsacq can shoot the customs and daily life in Cape Verde as something that still feels foreign — she herself is not from Cape Verde — but never veers into exoticization.
Dropped into a world she doesn’t know or understand, Cléo must come to terms with how she doesn’t belong here or with Gloria anymore, even though they share a bed during their stay. In Cape Verde, Cléo finds a beautiful community, which faces a level of poverty that is outside her experience. She doesn’t like sharing Gloria with her children, and Gloria’s children resent Cléo for taking their mother from them, even now. Still, her visit is a mostly positive one, and Amachoukeli-Barsacq lets us bask in the blue skies and sea, and the rich colours of the land.
Àma Gloria is a tactile film
Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq’s aesthetic is very tactile. She is very attuned to the physical language of touch between Gloria and Cléo. We often see Cléo sitting or standing wedged between Gloria’s thighs, resting her head on Gloria’s chest, or simply holding hands. They’re affectionate in a way that may no longer be helpful to them. Cléo tries to comfort Gloria about the lost of her mother by explaining that she lost her, too, but she’s OK now.
We wonder how much Cléo has simply replaced her mother with Gloria. Cléo is always discovering the world with her hands and feet touching new things and ground, and her eyes always taking in her surroundings; the film begins, after all, with her getting tested for a pair of glasses to see the world afresh. Short and colourful animated sequences spliced throughout the film offer a sort of subconscious read of Cléo, who hasn’t quite understood her emotions yet.
Cléo’s perspective limits the film’s explorations in Àma Gloria
If the film feels a little slight, it’s perhaps because it is so immersed in Cléo’s perspective. Films like Second Mother and The Maid, which also deal with the complex relationship (and in those films, power dynamic) between a nanny and her charge, go deeper into the psychology of the carer and are richer for it. Ama Gloria, meanwhile, never fully acknowledges how colonialism has ripped Gloria from her family and turned Cléo into her temporary surrogate child.
The film doesn’t quite dig into how Gloria’s absence has strained her relationship with her children and what the job in France meant for her and their futures. Her son lashes out at Cléo, and her daughter has doubts about her pregnancy, perhaps because of the position her mother was forced into by having children. But we rarely see how Gloria feels about this and whether this affects her feelings about Cléo.
Instead, Amachoukeli-Barsacq focuses on the emotional connection between Gloria and Cléo and how they slowly and painfully come to terms with its end. The final shots will destroy you, and the film cuts to black with an indelible, heartbreaking image.
Related reading/listening to Marie Amachoukeli-Barasq’s Àma Gloria
More stories of childcare workers and their charges: Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva’s The Maid (which we briefly discuss on the podcast) and Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert’s The Second Mother explore some similar terrain as Ama Gloria.
More recent French Cinema: Four French films directed by women made our list of the Best Films of 2023. Alice Winocour’s Revoir Paris and Rebeca Zlotowski’s Other People’s Children both screened at last year’s Rendez-Vous. We also loved Claire Simon’s documentary Our Body and Sandrine Kiberlain’s A Radiant Girl. Éric Gravel’s thriller about a single mother, Full Time, also made the list.
More past highlights from Rendez-Vous with French cinema: Our #3 film of 2020, Mikhaël Hers’s Amanda, has yet to secure US distribution. (It is available on VOD in Canada and the UK.) We also love Philippe Faucon’s Fatima, which screened in 2016. His most recent film, Les Harkis, is excellent and screened last year, but has yet to receive distribution.
I first encountered the work of Iranian filmmaker Ida Panahandeh at Cannes 2015 with her first feature, Nahid. It was a really impressive character study about life under patriarchy, and the film won the best first feature award in Un Certain Regard. Unfortunately, it virtually disappeared afterward; I haven’t been able to track down a way to rewatch it since. Her two next features had a similar fate (I’ve yet to be able to find them, but would love to!).
So I highly recommend taking the rare opportunity to catch up with her newest and fourth feature, Titi, while it’s streaming this week. It’s the story of an Iranian Roma woman, Titi (Elnaz Shakerdust), who works as a cleaner in a hospital where she meets a physicist with a brain tumour. She takes an instant liking to him, and soon, their lives become entangled when his ex-wife asks her to throw out his pages of scientific proofs, and Titi decides to keep them, instead. He seeks her out in search of the papers which contain elusive ideas he can no longer remember that he thinks might be the answer to a black hole problem he’s been working on for years. Soon, they become friends and Titi finds herself in increasingly difficult situations.
Titi is an uneducated, poor woman, who spends the film trying to help others while being taken advantage of by men within an already patriarchal system. She is carrying a surrogate baby, and it’s suggested she suffered from postpartum depression after previous surrogate pregnancies. Her fiance treats her like she’s worthless and ignorant, often beating her in an attempt to, as he puts it, “beat the crazy out of her.” He’s also holding one of the physicist’s papers hostage, and puts Titi in the middle of a power scrabble between the two men. The physicist initially seems like a kinder-hearted man, but he, too, is not immune to using his male privilege to hurt women, from his ex-wife to Titi.
Like Nahid, Titi is a character-driven film about a woman placed in an impossible situation with only bad options. It’s not without its issues, and occasionally falls into the trap of the cliche of the rational scientific man and the silly spiritual woman. Still, it deals with a number of taboo topics in Iranian culture while centering a female perspective and features strong performances.
You could be missing out on opportunities to watch great films like Ida Panahandeh’s Titi at virtual cinemas, VOD, and festivals.
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