Nadia Tereszkiewicz in "Babysitter" (2023)
Following its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, “Babysitter” is arriving in Toronto to kick off this year’s Canadian Film Fest (CFF). The CFF is an indie-spirited festival dedicated to celebrating Canadian filmmakers. The festival returns this spring for its 17th edition, and for the first time, as a hybrid with both in-person and virtual screenings. This year’s slate has a strong focus on women in film, both in front of and behind the camera. “Babysitter,” directed by Monia Chokri and written by Catherine Léger, confronts misogyny with a sardonic point of view. The story follows Cédric (Patrick Hivon), who after committing sexual assault and losing his job, attempts to “free” himself from sexism by co-writing a book to attack misogyny. His wife Nadine (Chokri), a new mother exhausted by his behavior and in search of her own fulfillment, becomes drawn to their child’s babysitter Amy (Nadia Tereszkiewicz). Amy’s presence creates a more mysterious, playful environment. As Cédric and Nadine drift further apart, their lives become more and more like a fever dream.
The film plays up qualities of dreamlike strangeness, from the technicolor set pieces and cinematography, to the exaggerated acting. There is a cartoonish, eccentric energy to Chokri’s direction. The characters feel like caricatures instead of human beings. The costumes and sets have a coat of plasticity to them, not unlike pieces you would find in a doll’s house. While “Babysitter” has a specific vision aesthetically, the film lacks in a coherent narrative structure. Adapted from Catherine Léger’s 2017 play of the same name, Chokri’s genre-bending approach explores themes of toxic masculinity and gender politics through elements of horror and comedy. The use of different genres has its intriguing moments, particularly with the babysitter character who channels satire fairly well. However, the potentiality of this film resonating in its social commentary is overpowered by inconsistent direction and over-exaggerated performances.
“Babysitter” often difficult to follow and keep engaged by, which makes one curious for how the film could have worked better through a different perspective. By centering Cédric as the protagonist, the story is told largely from his point of view as he attempts to apologize for his sexist behavior. This relegates a far more interesting character to the background: Nadine. While she isn’t given much material to work with, Chokri brings an enjoyable stoicism to the character and maintains the film’s magical realism. Nadia Tereszkiewicz’s performance as Amy fits the fairytale-like directorial style; rather than a character who advances the plot, the babysitter appears to be a figment of one’s imagination. Of the cast, Chokri and Tereszkiewicz stand out in balancing the film’s erratic tone. The rest of the ensemble leans too far into exaggeration, reaching the point where they distract from the story. This is the case for the majority of factors at play in “Babysitter.” While refreshing in its genre-bending approach, and full of energy, the muddled screenplay and unfocused direction make for a wearying experience.