A horror drama about immigrants in Sundance – The Hollywood Reporter

The horror of the immigrant experience is often portrayed quite literally in American cinema – the shaky, realistic camera movements; clear, muted colors; sad, tired people open their eyes wide, romantically speaking only as they take on all the abuses capitalism has to offer. The transportation executives in these stories often do so from a secluded place, able to document their subjects’ suffering while ignoring their many layers of humanity.

And then, every once in a while, the audience gets something that not only describes the immigrant’s experience but also provides a lens for us to (at least partially) understand the emotional nuances of life. physical living in one place while one’s heart is in another. Leaving home is a series of small deaths, compounded into a general feeling of mourning for the life you could have had if you had stayed. Nikyatu Jusu’s debut feature, Nannyis about coping with that mourning in the hope that a new life will help heal.


Key point

An ingenious and sensitive horror immigrant story.

Location: Sundance Film Festival (American Drama Competition)
Cast: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Spector, Sinqua Walls, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams
Screenwriter-Director: Nikyatu Jusu

1 hour 37 minutes

The film tells the story of Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese nanny for Rose (Rose Decker), the daughter of a wealthy white New York couple with a strained marriage. Amy (Michelle Monaghan) is the archetypal upper-class working mother, whose control issues and general anxiety make it difficult for Aisha to do her job. When Rose refuses to eat the healthy, discreetly sealed food her mother left her, Aisha begins feeding her mushy rice, knowing Amy would never allow it. Though her husband Adam (Morgan Spector) is around, Amy is the one calling the shots, demanding every moment of Aisha’s time as well as emotional support. Adam looks down on her, disappearing frequently, and only shows interest in Rose when given the chance to flirt with Aisha. Tired of work and fed up with Adam, Amy can’t seem to manage paying Aisha on time.

There are moments at the beginning of the film where it seems the focus will be on Aisha’s relationship with the white couple, but Jusu frames them as intruders in Aisha’s life, distracting her from her needs and desires. own want. Aisha needs to be paid on time, not just for rent, but mostly to save money to spare for her young son Lamine’s arrival in the country. Meanwhile, he’s with her family, only phone calls and video chats connecting them between continents. She is a mother on a mission, and her job as a nanny is only a means to an end.

It’s refreshing to see Aisha continually establish boundaries between herself and the troubled couple, refusing to fall into the man-made traps of their lifestyle. She can clearly see the misery and emptiness in their marriage, even when she herself is emotionally disturbed. She longs only for what’s hers – her son, whom she calls her “greatest work”.

Immerse yourself in underwater imagery, Nanny is a film that moves freely through life and dream space, favoring the dark tinged with deep blue. It is the kind of film where the viewer loses his sense of time, mesmerized by the beauty and melancholy of each shot. Jusu first cultivated this style in her debut short film, Suicide By Sunlighta delicately beautiful story about a struggling black mother trying to regain custody of her children while hiding a violent secret. Nanny builds on themes of motherhood, focusing on the pain of being separated from your child while caring for another. As Aisha spends more and more time with her white owners and their daughters, her identity as a mother and her connection to her children begins to fade.

With the company of other West African immigrants and her new love Malik (Sinqua Wall), Aisha tries to stay rooted in her culture and take each step towards the life she wants. As Malik, Walls is charming and approachable; we see Aisha starting to relax and enjoy her time in the city. Diop and Walls have a lovely chemistry, but the film’s most impactful connection is between her and veteran actress Leslie Uggams, who plays Malik Kathleen’s grandmother. When Aisha begins to have visions that disrupt both her sleep and waking hours, Kathleen uses her psychic intuition to help the protagonist understand what they mean. Two figures from West African folklore, the trickster Anansi and the water god Mami Wata, take over her mind, slowly eating away at her sanity. Aisha begins to see spiders – Anansi’s most common form – often accompanied by her mind playing tricks on her, distorting her actual moments. Mami Wata is much more direct, pulling Aisha into the water and making her feel as though she’s drowning. But despite the violence of their methods, Kathleen insists they are simply trying to send a message – one that will likely have a devastating impact on the young mother’s life.

With Nanny, Jusu creates a thematic, thought-provoking story that deftly explores the emotional and spiritual costs of leaving your hometown for an uncertain future in a foreign land. . Elegant and gentle Diop plays Aisha, a loving mother with quiet strength, a commanding presence and an unbreakable bond with Senegal and the conditions that made her. It was the perfect marriage of director and star, with Jusu a worthy showcase for Diop’s talent as a leading lady.

The film’s skillful use of folklore is an inspiring breath of fresh air in a horror setting that is often overlooked by the African community. Mami Wata is a particularly dazzling image, regal, sensual and calm at the same time. At its roots, Nanny is a story about the power of connecting cultures to another world and the ways it can guide you when you’re lost.

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