“In her eyes the present did not exist”
I did a double take upon hearing Theodore Ushev‘s name alongside his animated short Blind Vaysha during the Oscar nominations because I’ve watched his work progress the past five years. This Canadian by way of Bulgaria is a Toronto International Film Festival staple, a guy who alters his aesthetic with every new project. Whether rotoscoping, hybridizing Cubism and Constructivism, or dabbling in Abstract Expressionism, though, you always know it’s an Ushev film because of its content and craftsmanship. His latest is no different, the adoption of woodcutting lending an old school storybook feel to a tale that speaks towards today’s climate of hope and despair. Narrated by Caroline Dhavernas, Vaysha’s story begs us to open our eyes and see the world as it is—for better or worse.
Based on a short story by Georgi Gospodinov of a young girl born with one eye that sees the past and another the future, Blind Vaysha is rooted in nostalgia and fear. We yearn for what was and dread what’s next without acknowledging the life in front of us that’s both stronger for what came before and still able to learn so what’s coming won’t be so bad. This affliction proves a curse rather than gift, those seeking to find a cure her last chance at stopping potential suitors from simultaneously looking like babies and old men. Even in dream she only sees memories of youth and nightmares of death. Vaysha embodies our imperfect drive to better ourselves, one that only leads to added horrors in self-fulfilling prophecy.
Ushev brings her to life with wonderful visuals, each frame personal and unique. It’s a modern parable rendered ancient (or vice versa), a story culminating with a question posed to the audience once the narrative stops reading to speak directly at us. Which eye would you save? Which would you lose? Or is it better to remove both and live in the darkness their torture already wields to imprison our minds? It’s the perfect metaphor for the state of America as Trumpists crave a “greatness” of old they cannot define and Democrats stare blankly at the void of destruction lingering over the horizon. Sanity is only possible by looking at today because the past is complete and the future unwritten. All we have is right now.