The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Jessica Oreck

Starring

Mariusz A Wolf Tatyana Zbirovskaya

Anticipation.

A hold-over from 2014. Taken a while to reach UK shores.

Enjoyment.

Some fascinating stuff in here – poetic anthropology.

In Retrospect.

Hardly one for the ages, but affecting in the moment.

A grotesque Slavic fairy tale is compared to the realities of modern Eastern Europe in this intriguing miniature.

This odd and intriguing little film explores the quaint folkloric qualities still present in modern day eastern Europe. It drifts between a ghoulish Hansel and Gretel-like fairy tale, presented in illustrated storybook tableaux and with a theatrically-intoned voiceover, and random snippets of contemporary working class life. It’s an essay film in the mode of the late, great Chris Marker, as interested in the everyday poeticism of a street scene or people just going about their business as it is in making subtle philosophical connections between a range of disparate topics and ideas.

Director Jessica Oreck never pushes too hard to make the comparisons between fanciful fiction and hardscrabble reality too obvious, allowing plenty of room to manoeuvre when it comes to interpretation. The fairy tale itself charts how two children are forced into a forbidding woodland when hiding from roving soldiers. They come across the hut of the evil witch Baba Yaga who sets them a series of trials. If they fail, the witch threatens to eat them. The documentary sequences show tumbledown cities with architecture that combines the modern and the classical.

It also captures a community of foragers as they take to the countryside with their pocketknives and woven baskets to collect up the toadstool-shaped bounty that’s available to them. Just as stories filter down through generations, their search is also shown as a process of education. Kids learn how to collect mushrooms, lest their future wellbeing leads them to such endeavours. The film plays a single note, but it’s satisfyingly off-key and is delivered in a range of volumes and textures.

Published 30 Sep 2016

Anticipation.

A hold-over from 2014. Taken a while to reach UK shores.

Enjoyment.

Some fascinating stuff in here – poetic anthropology.

In Retrospect.

Hardly one for the ages, but affecting in the moment.

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