Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Film: "The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga"

I've been hoping I'd find a way to see this film so I could post on it properly but I can't see that happening for a while yet so it's high time I let you all know about it, in case you get the chance to., especially since a trailer was uploaded just a few weeks ago.

Note: all artwork, animation and photography in this post is from the film, production blog or official website.
It definitely seems to me that witches of the fairy tale kind in general are having a come back and that includes Baba Yaga. Though this film was released in 2013, it's making the critic rounds right now and the response has been overwhelmingly thumbs up.

Independent filmmaker Jessica Oreck has a name you may have heard of if you're in film and indie film circles. She's the creator of that curious and very different entomological film "Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo". While "Baba Yaga" is being touted as even more experimental due to use of mixed media using aspects of animation to blend two stories together, the familiarity of Baba Yaga and her stories might mean it's more accessible to people like us. All I've read about the film, themes, synopsis and treatment seems far more straight forward than "Beetle Queen" to me but then I'm someone who finds is quite comfortable with the mention of flying pestles and huts with chicken legs...

How's this for an intriguing introduction?
Deep in the forest, wedged in cracks in the bark and under the moss covered rocks, hide memories and myths. These subconscious tales, drawn from the natural world, inform the societies we build. Jessica Oreck's fantastical work combines animation, traditional storytelling and contemporary non-fiction filmmaking to recount the Slavic fable of the Witch Baba Yaga. Directed by Jessica Oreck.
I also love the summary/explanation at the official website, presented in lovely book form:

Variety just posted a really interesting and informative review of the film a couple of days ago, which was a nice surprise. Here are some excerpts:
Nature and civilization square off in Jessica Oreck’s poetic meditation-cum-documentary “The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga.” Alternating between two complementary narratives (fairy-tale and cultural-anthropological) in two languages (Russian and Polish) and two formats (animation and live-action), Oreck spins a mesmerizing web that appropriates a wealth of disparate Eastern European images — of mushrooms, farmers, falling trees and war-destroyed buildings — to illustrate its lyrical discourse.
The story Oreck tells is simple: Man, fearing nature’s wildness, builds walls against it and demonizes it in folklore. But there is another, far more violent force within man himself that, once unleashed, sends him fleeing to a wilderness that now affords sanctuary. 

...Oreck’s version of a well-known Slavic fairy tale replaces a wicked stepmother with hostile soldiers as the reason two children must venture into the woods. There they encounter Baba Yaga, a fearsome witch who flies around in a giant mortar and lives in a movable hut mounted on chicken feet. She demands near-impossible tasks of the sister and brother, threatening to eat them if they fail. But, aided by small representatives of nature — a talking mouse, cat and sparrow — the duo accomplish her bidding. Foiled, Baba Yaga must allow the children to leave, reluctantly giving them a magic comb; fleeing marauding soldiers, the boy throws the comb on the ground whereupon it transforms into an impenetrable thicket.   The siblings wander in the forest where they are reunited with their mother and all live happily ever after.
Oreck presents this fairy tale as a series of animation storyboard panels, rendered with 3D perspectives. Though these illustrations do not literally constitute animation — there is no frame-by-frame character movement linking one drawing to the next — the camera simulates storytelling by constantly roaming the panels, zooming in and out and slowly panning across surfaces.
The Polish monologue, borrowing freely from evocative poetry, musings and memoirs, encompasses a far less cohesive procession of live-action images.... 
You can read the whole review HERE.

The juxtaposition of the animation images (including those shown here) and the more documentarian-style live action scenes sounds like it would come across as very experimental, especially while watching, it seems the resulting feeling is a successful melding of the two mediums to tell a cyclic story of man vs nature and man vs man as well as nature vs society.

If so, that is exactly my impression of what it would be like to face Baba Yaga: terrifying, confusing, a personification of all things scary and fear for your life, only to realize later that she made more sense than the places and people you originally thought of as being safe because she is bigger than just a person and has a bigger purpose, whereas much of what you took for granted as being safe before, no longer is. Where you thought you were facing death in the forest, you learned to live. The world of man (and war) doesn't work like that at all - it's almost the opposite - you fight to live, only to be faced with death on many levels everywhere you go.

Clearly this is a film that is more at home in an Arthouse theater than a mainstream one (and not just because it's foreign) but then people who are drawn to fairy tales often have eclectic tastes so there's likely more than a handful of you who find this as intriguing as I do. The reviews are by-and-large people being happily surprised and drawn in more and more by the film as it goes along, when at the outset they expected to just 'survive' it for critical review purposes.

Here's the trailer, which shows the use of live action against tale-paced words. Though the animated images illustrating the fairy tale are missing, there's no doubt about the content.

Some additional recommended reviews and related articles:

1 comment:

  1. How interesting! It looks nice. That picture with a girl carrying a skull lantenr is by a Russian artist Ivan Bilibin, so it is not a new illustration. Film seems to be one of the modern interpretations of folklore stories. I'd like to see.