Review: Baba

Directed by Anya Chirkova and Meran Ismailsoy, and written by Maziyar Khatam, a middle-aged Iranian man makes a desperate bid to keep his apartment as his relationship with his son unravels. Starring: Maziyar Khatam, Amir Zavosh, James Choy and Sina Djamshidiat.

Interestingly with Baba its strengths and weaknesses overlap, primarily that the filmmakers were willing to take risks with how they tell this story. It’s headstrong and intense, it truly dives in headfirst and it doesn’t slow down. There’s a great deal of tension which is extremely well done but it also attempts to build a few emotions which it can’t quite get a grasp on. The key issue being sympathy, it struggles to balance the negativity it creates around the father (Amir Zavosh) with the sympathy it needs to remain neutral towards him. It does such a fantastic job of making you dislike him, that it’s hard to react in any other manner. It creates a brilliant example of how people can fall apart in separation and divorce, to regress and rebel, but there is always a line and he goes beyond that.

Visually it really embraces the hectic atmosphere to the film, it grabs onto the pacing to add complimentary movement. It feels as though it’s directly in the action, not set as an observer but another member of the unravelling chaos. Anya Chirkova and Meran Ismailsoy do a great job of making the film’s intensity get to boiling point but when it dips its toes into the darker side, it isn’t quite prepared. It takes a few detours that while they are thematically interesting, are perhaps too far into the deep end to really blend into the rest of the story. Although it does also have a great handle on the father’s character, it envelops his arrogance and vindictiveness into the style.

Admittedly, it isn’t a difficult task when Amir Zavosh is bringing such a perfectly loud and brash performance to the table. He creates this toxic cloud around his character which quickly permeates everything. Maziyar Khatam’s performance counterbalances that with patience and compassion, two qualities that are being sincerely tested. He gives a very relatable portrayal, his caring attitude can only go so far when he keeps being pushed. James Choy and Sina Djamshidiat both add some unpredictability to the mix, Choy in a more familiar manner and Djamshidiat in a wholly unexpected way, that throws a big wrench into the works.

Baba takes a huge swing with this chaotic and intense story, and while not everything connects, you can’t help but respect the risks it takes and the creative energy to it. The performances from all of the ensemble are fantastic, they all have something different to add to the atmosphere and each ramps up that intensity. All of that energy is then enhanced by the direction which keeps a satisfyingly loose feel, leaning into the messy, unpredictable nature to the story. It may not hit every note perfectly but it genuinely shows a huge amount of potential and talent from these filmmakers.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Screened at Sundance Film Festival 2023

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