REVIEW: Beba [2022]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 79 minutes
    Release Date: June 24th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Neon
    Director(s): Rebeca Huntt
    Writer(s): Rebeca Huntt

This is my part.

Writer/director/subject Rebeca Huntt worries aloud about whether her family will ever speak to her again after watching her feature debut Beba. It’s a real concern not only because of how intimate and uncensored this introspective look at her life and ancestry proves, but also because they have a history of shutting themselves off verbally and emotionally from each other. Her brother and father haven’t spoken in over a decade. Her brother isn’t seen or heard from during the film beyond still photographs. The depiction of her parents makes it appear that they aren’t on great terms either despite continuing to live together in their rent-controlled Central Park West one-bedroom apartment. None of these truths or assumptions are judgments, though. They’re merely facts Rebeca has been forced to confront.

I use the word “confront” because this is an active part of her life. She hasn’t endured these details or overcome them. That’s not how being human works. Even if Rebeca were to leave them behind, the scars of their impact wouldn’t disappear either in memory, ambition, or resentment. It’s why she decides to go back as far as she does to look at what she knows of Dad’s impoverished heritage in the Dominican Republic or Mom’s comfortable upbringing in Venezuela. This is a search for answers—to find the origins of her delusions and rage through her childhood’s psychological abuses and inalienable joys. Where did she come from? What can’t she escape? Who can she still become? It’s a self-propelled therapy session laid bare to the world.

And it’s one-hundred percent raw and real whether natural or not. One scene pitting Rebeca in a room with three of her white friends trying (and failing) to put their fingers on the pulse of the white supremacist nation they’ve had the privilege to traverse in ways she didn’t is admittedly staged. It must be considering how perfectly it ends with her picking up her coat and storming out, the camera waiting outside for her to join. Just because it was pre-planned, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Huntt asked her friends to reenact a dialogue that was surely similar if not exact to one they’ve probably shared countless times before, asking each to be the “worst version of themselves” in the process. Embellishment doesn’t automatically equal lie.

If so, you could dismiss everything on-screen as lies too since it’s all a performance. The moment a camera is turned on in a room full of people who are consciously aware that it’s turned on is the moment truth becomes filtered through a prism of artifice. We see it with Dad talking about all the good things before refusing to speak about the bad (she brings up her brother and he declines to comment). There’s also Mom deflecting and projecting her insecurities back, blaming her daughter’s “aggressions” for creating her own to try and take control of a situation in which she has none. I’m talking footage that most subjects would assume will never make the light of day becoming the only footage Rebeca chooses to use.

This is her story after all. Her truth documented over eight years post-college—dissected and reassembled into a portrait of an uncertain life lived. And don’t presume she’s out to get everyone else while shining a beacon of innocence above herself either. Rebeca is as ruthlessly honest about her own place in this family and world as she is about theirs. She highlights her anger and fears. She allows former teachers to speak on her state of mind while laughing to subsequently force them into calling her out for knowing they’re correct. Rebeca is candid about what she misses and what she’s lost. People in her life have committed suicide, been sent to psych wards, and been too oblivious to realize their role in the problems afflicting others.

Through all that pain and anxiety, however, she’s come out the other end. Rebeca talks in the press notes about no longer recognizing the person she put on-screen because of how much she’s evolved as a person from the start of the project to now. Some of that is surely a result of the project itself. There’s no better avenue towards self-enrichment and understanding than forcing yourself to confront what she does when so many others would choose to blindly ignore it as a rule. We hear her mother at one point ask why she’s letting so much be said that the public doesn’t need to know. Maybe they don’t. But Rebeca does. And if letting the world know helps her listen, make sure to hold nothing back.

That it looks and sounds so good is a bonus speaking to Rebeca’s artistry. She and her collaborators shoot handheld 16mm to combine with home movies, cellphone footage, still photos, and archival film, building a four-chapter journey from “family curses” to “zombie apocalypses” and beyond. The humor to label such universal notions of finding your footing in adulthood is the perfect mechanism to keep us invested once things get dark because Rebeca isn’t trying to make us pity her. She’s just documenting the ebbs and flows of an identity that’s still in progress so we can relate our own ever-changing existences to its highs and lows. Her goal was to begin a deeper dialogue around our “innate correlation.” By never pretending to be anything but herself, she succeeds.

[1] Photo by Sheena Matheiken
All courtesy of NEON

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