Babai

Artem Aisagaliev

IndieLisboa 2020 •

Fiction, 2020, 65′

If you don’t fall asleep the bogey man will come for you! In the Slavic mythology it’s Babai who kidnaps the children. Aisagaliev’s film contains this oneiric fear of growing up, but is above all a vertiginous and sensorial voyage through the first visual and sonorous impressions of childhood. Two brothers and a rather severe father. The world tears apart before the eyes, they are blurry memories, pieces of happiness and humiliation. 

A Russian-born and US-based director Artem Aisagaliev comes back to his grandparents’ house in the Russian Far East to make a deep dive into his childhood memories, casting almost exclusively his own family members in his first feature Babai. Through the eyes of the two little brothers, the director wanders about the foggy border between the kid’s world and that of the adults, a border that you cannot cross unscarred. The camera sticks to claustrophobic close-ups of the faces, hands, and backs of the two boys, who move freely in a very limited space, the space that shrinks before one’s eyes giving way to an army-style discipline. Boys don’t cry in this world devoid of female presence, and if they do, Babai, a mythic folklore creature, will take them away. Babai is also the name of the boys’ grandfather, and this is a line easy to read: the boys will be kidnapped, eventually, from their world of surprise and wonder, to serve their duty as men. (Anastasia Lukovnikova)