Ayka (2018)

An extraordinary work of hard-hitting social realism that recalls the Dardennes’ ‘Rosetta’ and Mungiu’s ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’, set in the harsh wintry conditions of Moscow as a young Kyrgyz woman abandons her baby to find work to pay off insurmountable debts. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,307

Dir. Sergei Dvortsevoy
2018 | Russia | Drama | 110 mins | 1.78:1 | Russian & Kyrgyz
NC16 (passed clean) for brief nudity

Cast: Samal Yeslyamova, Zhipara Abdilaeva, Sergey Mazur
Plot: Ayka is a young Kyrgyz girl that lives and works illegally in Moscow. After giving birth to her son, she leaves him in the hospital as she cannot afford to raise a child.
Awards: Won Best Actress & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: The Match Factory

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Illegal Immigrant; Struggles; Poverty
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Oldham Theatre (Cinema of Central Asia programme)
Spoilers: No

Ayka won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival in the year that Shoplifters nabbed the Palme d’Or.  It is to me far more impressive than Kore-eda’s work, but still, Samal Yeslyamova fully deserved her acting award. 

She plays the titular character, a young Kyrgyz woman who abandons her newborn baby in the hospital to find work to pay off her insurmountable debts. 

Yeslyamova embodies Ayka in body and soul as she struggles to find a job—any job—in the harsh wintry conditions of Moscow.  She also suffers from pain, which makes not just her physical ordeal unbearable, but psycho-emotional as well. 

Directed by Sergei Dvortsevoy, whose last feature was Tulpan (2008), Ayka is an extraordinary work of hard-hitting social realism that recalls the likes of the Dardennes’ Rosetta (1999) and Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007). 

“Please give me a month.”

With the hyperactive handheld camera staying almost entirely on Ayka, we see every strain of emotion in her well-worn face and big, expressive eyes.  With such proximity, we also feel her at ease when she finds temporary comfort in the little things e.g. a stranger offering her hot tea. 

An extended segment of Ayka is set in a veterinarian clinic, where we see an array of pets—mostly injured cats and dogs—getting the necessary treatment.  The irony is definitely not lost as even domestic animals receive much better care than an illegal immigrant. 

Ayka is bleak and may be difficult to watch for those not used to the depiction of abject misery in film, but in the piercing cold, we see a woman with the strength and courage to chart her own path.

Grade: A


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