If you’re looking for a horror flick, look elsewhere. The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga by Jessica Oreck is a fascinating and insightful documentary that analyzes the legacies of tradition and war in Eastern Europe.
The film is soft-spoken in its thesis, largely allowing the filmography and accompanying music to tell the narrative of modern Eastern Europe’s relationship with nature as opposed to depending on voice-over narration. That’s not to say that it is entirely silent. A narrator’s voice overlaps the images with poetic words questioning the nature of memory, identity and heritage. Juxtaposed with narrated, illustrated “chapters” from the story of Baba Yaga (a mystical old woman commonly featured in Slavic stories), the landscapes and cityscapes feel at times like the pages of a picture book where you yourself are a character.
Oreck reveals the changing impact of the witch Baba Yaga on the Slavic peoples as the contexts of her existence change. Representative of the brooding, forbidding forest, she is initially a somewhat dangerous figure during peacetime. When war comes to the land, however, the forest—and, reluctantly in the story, Baba Yaga herself—becomes a maternal figure to which the people turn. With the preservation of our environment and the question of man’s place in nature headlining debates and discussions worldwide, The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga is a relevant, timely and graceful addition to the conversation.
The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga screens on Thursday, April 10 at 8:15pm and Saturday, April 13 at 5:15pm at Hollywood 20.