Written and Directed by Nikyatu Jusu with her debut feature, Nanny is set in New York and stars Anna Diop as Aisha, a Senegalese immigrant who’s recently taken up a job to care for Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam’s (Morgan Spector)young daughter Rose (Rose Decker). They’re a rich, well to do upper class couple, that initially appear fair and trusting but it’s not long before Amy starts to question Aisha’s place in the household, nor does it take that much time for Adam to try and take advantage of the new nanny – it’s clear they both have buried issues they’re hiding beneath the surface of the life they portray.
There’s little doubt that Nanny isn’t what you’ll expect to be, lingering more in the psychological world of the likes of Don’t Look Now, and Diop’s Aisha also has a secret herself – she’s haunted by the emptiness of having to leave her son behind her, with the hopes of eventually bringing him over but as her time in a strange country continues, another darkness begins to linger in her dreams – which builds throughout and invades both her sleeping and waking life whilst all the time trying to manage an also volatile rich family, who might just be taking her for granted and also taking advantage of her.
Jusu shoots the film, with sharp editing from Robert Mead and utterly excellent craft by cinematographer Rina Yang, in a very natural and captivating form with the occasional flicker of sunshine blistering through the shots, filtering through to the square box of the wealthy New York apartment. It feels purposefully distant, whereas you know the setting, but you’re not let completely into the situation – thus reflecting Anna’s world – with reoccurring themes of water and feeling exhausted by the situation she’s in, doing everything she can to work towards a better life.
I’m aware that Nanny is influence by the real-life experience of Director Jusu’s mother, who worked these types of jobs to support her family in the States, and that awareness is brought into this fictional world with strength and insight. The director also integrates spiritual elements from her heritage, and with this enhances a piercing psychological edge that reminder of the lives of immigrants. Something I hope we all understand a little better than we used to, even if the hyperbole focuses on it being something negative – when much of the time it’s the opposite.
While I personally have family living nearby, and I enjoy my lifestyle, I think that if I lost part of it, or couldn’t reach out or touch it every now and then, I’d feel like I was missing a part of me. So when you’re truly trying to change your own life in the wider scale of the world, that sacrifice is bigger than some people understand. It’s a whole shift in your reality. It’s a different street, view, common values and that’s an enormous step to take.
Nanny is a story of motherhood, of connection (both losing and finding it), and a clever flip in character journey where Michelle Monaghan, who gives a brilliant performance, might be living the money life but is struggling to survive in it, trying to keep up and stay ‘normal’ but losing more reality in the process. There’s also great performances from Sinqua Wells as Malik – and becomes an important part of Anna’s life, and Leslie Uggams as Kathleen, who also connects with Anna in a human way.
Mythical and deeply visceral, Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny lingers in the mind for a long time with an equally grounded and haunting performance from Anna Diop, who’s a truly mesmerizing lead.