The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga
A descent into Eastern Europe's haunted woodlands uncovers the secrets, fairy tales, and bloody histories that shape our understanding of man's place in nature.
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★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
Hoop-Tober, year three, film #3:
Editing was 🔥
Narration was 🔥
Scoring was 🔥
Animation was 🔥
Sean Price Williams began shooting feature films less
than a decade ago, and he's already a cinematographic god.
★★★★ review by Kenji Fujishima on Letterboxd
Writer/director Jessica Oreck uses the classic Slavic folk character of Baba Yaga—a witch who, in Oreck's own retelling, lures two children into her hut and threatens to devour them if they don't fulfill certain challenges—as a springboard for a wide-ranging, densely woven and visually mesmerizing dialectic that essentially tries to capture the troubled soul of eastern Europe—a landscape still struggling between diametrical oppositions of tradition versus modernity and nature versus civilization, according to this film at least—in its interplay of (animated) myth and (Super 16mm) reality. Does folklore in fact illuminate the real world, in this case? As with a lot of the questions Oreck obliquely raises, there is no simple answer. All one can be sure of is that that all-embracing spirit of the Godard-/Marker-style essay film—where you never know where a filmmaker's intuitions will take you, and where one cut can suggest oceans of intellectual possibilities—is thankfully very much alive and well in The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga.
★★★★★ review by Gabriel Anderson on Letterboxd
Simply put, I was unprepared for this film's staggering reach, and for the grasp that exceeds it. It uses a folklore tale of redemption via witchcraft (told in interpolated animated chapters) as a starting point to trace the role of fear as a catalyst for the entire structure of human society, alternately making the case for the fear (or dark) as both greater and lesser force than our collective response to it. The result is hypnotic and profound in a way that few other films are. It seems unthinkable that there could be two films in one year shot by Sean Price Williams and edited by Robert Greene, with the magnificent Listen Up Philip being the lesser of the two....but that's evidently the world we are fortunate to live in.
★★★½ review by herdivineshadow on Letterboxd
A kind of crosshatch film of a grandmother telling a bedtime story about Baba Yaga and a meditation on life and nature in Eastern Europe.
As the dialogue is entirely in Polish and Russian, I'm curious as to how well the subtitles translate what's being said - the film is very poetic and the nature of translation means that there can be a clash between precisely translating meaning literally or giving a better feeling for the mood of what is being said.
★★★½ review by Peter Labuza on Letterboxd
Another great documentary recapped from the New Orleans Film Festival. Dense as hell, using the essay format to essentially explain the relationship between traditional cultures and the Othering practices of the Post-Soviet state, even if that's never explicated directly. Will likely require a second screening to pick up more, though this seems like the kind of thing best seen in a Flaherty Seminar where you can really dive into the theoretical work with the filmmaker (as opposed to a standard Q&A where questions must remain a bit flat). Of amusement: didn't go in knowing much, so was thinking the cinematography looked amazing and the editing was really spot on, and then when Sean Price Williams and Robert Greene showed up in the credits I went "OF COURSE."
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