Review: Nanny Culture

A strongly recommended watch!

An interesting and enlightening insight into the differences and tensions that exist between two cultures are portrayed here when a British nanny looks after six children in Abu Dhabi.

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Nanny Culture is a charming and insightful documentary which looks into how two different cultures interact with one another, explored through the eyes of Julie, a qualified British nanny who is posted in Abu Dhabi to work as a full-time nanny to six children in a wealthy Emirati household.

This documentary succeeds in capturing how these two very different cultures react to each other, allowing insight into the joys and, indeed, the woes of Julie’s various encounters and experiences throughout her stay- some of which are humorous, intriguing or at the best of times, awkward. Documenting this clash of cultures through the narrative choice of Julie’s personal perspective is effective as it builds her character as someone who we can sympathise with as we experience all of her struggles and isolation with her. We see the relationships she establishes with the children and others and how these affect her throughout the duration of her stay.

Furthermore, this more personal narrative approach gives to the viewer the means for a broader insight, encouraging us too look beyond this one household, to the customs and ways of this entire culture which may be entirely unknown to us. It encourages us to see how it differs and, importantly, how it is also similar to our own lives. For instance, Abdullah’s relentless fixation on playing the PlayStation is not entirely unfamiliar to a Western audience, as one would struggle to find a fourteen year old boy in Britain who is not glued to a PlayStation or Xbox; in some ways this world is very relatable to our own. Thus, this distinguishes the ‘us and them’ mentality as we can see that, despite having different cultures, traditions, customs and being separated by thousands of miles, we humans are not all that different in many respects.

Therefore, this documentary certainly comes as a recommended watch as it gives rare insight into a private world and dispels any ignorance and misconceptions associated with it, allowing us to appreciate and understand ways of life that we not be all that familiar with, delivered to us in a clever narrative style as we are equally as new and strange to this world as Julie is and learn with her.

Indeed, a more surprising revelation that stood out to me in this documentary was the awkward altercation between Julie and the house staff. A real conflict of views emerges around whether a nanny should wear a uniform in the workplace. This can definitely be appreciated as we can respect both sides, as well as question the equality of household staff, and ask whether a nanny is truly regarded more highly than household maids and cooks. Julie herself confesses early on that she feels more like a governess, as her job is purely to manage the children whilst all other household matters are assigned to other staff. She even has her own driver which she was clearly just as unaware about as the viewer, something which leads to a very funny and memorable moment early on in the film, namely the scene in which Julie is being picked up from the airport and mistakes her driver for her boss. This altercation scene comes as a pleasant surprise, as I had not even considered the relationship between Julie and the house staff and the differences which reside there.

A standout moment in the film is the hilarity of Sylvie’s concerned reaction to the damaged jewellery. Never have I seen such a care for jewellery since Gollum. On a more serious note,  this is also quite revealing, as it is evidence of how in a strange environment that is new to you, it is easy to align yourself with people from where you originate, even though these people aren’t always the right people. Julie ultimately forms her best relationships within the Emirati family who at first she was completely different from, as opposed to Sylvie, whom she initially naturally gravitated towards, only to discover that she was not who she seemed at first, or as Julie effectively sums her up, ‘cuckoo’.

Overall, Nanny Culture certainly merits a watch. It is both funny and educational, emotional and awkward. The only thing I can be critical of is the editing, more specifically the interaction between the crew and the subjects, most of which could have been cut from the film as it is distracting from the centre of the action and what is important in certain scenes.

Nanny Culture (2016), directed by Paul James Driscoll, is distributed in the UK by Anasy Media. Certificate PG.



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