TIFF22 REVIEW: Baba [2022]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 15 minutes
    Release Date: 2022 (Kenya)
    Director(s): Mbithi Masya
    Writer(s): Mbithi Masya

Why didn’t you come to me?

The synopsis describes six-year-old Baba (Malik Wandera) as having the ability to teleport by closing his eyes to leave any situation. To watch Mbithi Masya‘s short film Baba unfold, however, is to realize we aren’t witnessing a superhero origin story. Baba isn’t shifting from one place to another on a whim. He isn’t testing his strength to push his gift to its limits. This is instead a tale about abuse and survival with Baba’s teleportation proving not of the body but the mind. He closes his eyes to imagine calm waves of the beach as an escape from the hardships of the reality he faces at the hands of an often emotionally absent mother (Faith Kibathi), violently authoritarian aunt (Mbeki Mwalimu), and abusively understated cousin (Victor Makgati‘s Kevin).

Baba seeks to leave the sorrow of his father not being by his side. He hopes to avoid having to watch the pain his aunt inflicts upon her son and hide from the monstrousness Kevin passes on as a result. This isn’t therefore a hopeful film. To think about an unshakeable final shot presenting a moment of satisfactory release on behalf of one of Baba’s aggressors may even ensure that it proves a harshly futile depiction of what it means to be trapped in a cycle of torment at the hands of those who are supposed to protect you. Rather than pretend he can someone narratively solve or contextualize the abhorrent nightmare too many children face in this world, Masya provides a visual representation of their silent suffering.

It’s not an easy film to watch as its warmth and promise gradually dissolves to reveal the central truth of Baba’s isolation and helplessness. Every time we believe we’re seeing one of the characters as his champion, it’s not long before they also reveal themselves to be another oppressor. The constant mood shifts and desire to pretend superficial fantasies of joy can overcome the darkness forever lingering beneath in anticipation lead us to wonder what, if anything, can change these circumstances beyond simply enduring them until Baba is old enough to finally leave. But then we must wonder if he can endure that long since Kevin apparently couldn’t. Because he wasn’t born with rage. It’s passed down, hit by hit, until his quest for power becomes his remedy.

Masya says his desire is to “help victims feel seen, to provide that comfort in the healing process.” So, he doesn’t soften the edges even if he doesn’t also present a graphic representation of all the violent acts themselves. By putting the perspective onto Baba’s shoulders, he can provide us the confusion of the experience and its sense of imprisonment. The quick glimpses of temper and harm truncated by his teleporting away. The desire to protect himself in the only way he knows how: imagination. It’s a stunning metaphor for a difficult subject that still also maintains the room for complexity insofar as victims becoming abusers. Because what is that final beach scene besides proof Kevin “teleports” too? It’s just that his relief has sadly become another’s despair.

courtesy of TIFF

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