What does belonging mean? How can one experience it when home, that primary site of belonging, evokes a disjointed, ruptured emotion, not quite lending ease or stability? Leonor Teles’ film Baan captures the elusiveness within the homing instinct. Her film chafes against geographical and spatial fixities. The protagonist, L (Carolina Miragaia), an architect, wonders how her city, Lisbon, became a smother and if she would ever be able to get past that feeling of being clamped down by its hold. The film opens, among its most arresting stretches, with L in Bangkok coping with a breakup and sways away to Lisbon.

There is a fluidity with which this portion is orchestrated. L ambles listlessly through streets and pubs. While the film gradually settles more or less in Lisbon, characters are tailed by a constant sense of alienation from themselves and their surroundings. Places that we inhabit shape us more than we admit it, as one of the characters stresses. Denial of this will only cause us more mental and emotional damage.

L is not oblivious to her ambivalent relationship with Lisbon/Bangkok. She cannot find a grip on it, what she feels about the city, and how it might add to her life. The loose, unboundness of her feelings translates into an amorphousness of style, leaping across spaces in a fuzzy manner.

L is adrift, grappling to situate herself, whereby she can make sounder decisions about her life and handle her relationships that do not leave her wholly emotionally denuded. She is learning to distance herself from her ex while desperately pining for him in his absence. Teles refrains from concrete statements as an artist; the film almost floats through its conjured state of unmooredness. L meets K (Meghna Lall) and vests fully in her, making her an anchor.

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K is a Thai-origin designer whose heated passion for race crimes is used as a lens for viewing her. K, too, has drifted through places, ranging from Toronto to London to Lisbon. L is taken in by the firmness K projects, her righteous indignation against prejudice and violence. As K talks about taking proactive action and dismissing passivity, L listens, rapt and admiringly.

Baan (2023) 'Sarajevo Film Festival' Movie Review

She is headily captivated by K’s ideas and spirit. The actresses’ charisma makes the relationship persuasive, but the dialogue sounds stiff and thoroughly contrived, burdened by a bland articulation. The excessive verbalizing, whenever the film indulges, especially through K, takes the sheen off the strong impressions the visuals otherwise convey. The exegetic inclinations of the film are its weakest. One is left baffled and hugely detached in significantly mounted scenes of confession.

The performances are sincere and endowed with feeling, but the lines they mouth repetitively border on reducing the tenuousness of the film’s wistful textures. K’s angry rants also come off as decidedly preachy in their tone. The dialogues consistently offset the mood and visual techniques Teles favors. The allure with which the film begins gradually diminishes whenever the characters share about their moods and habits that they cannot shake off.

This is a film about making the other person a sort of vessel to contain your own confusions and uncertainties, so when the other disappears, there is an immense, crushing loss of perspective. K’s sudden disappearance without any explanation unmoors L but also gives her ways of resilience to toughen up and teach herself how not to hinge herself completely on another person. L is someone who gets so passionately devoted. She struggles when she knows that she must distance herself for her own mental well-being. Miragaia casts L’s churning loneliness through a soft placidness.

Even as the film remains oblique and wispy, Miragaia gives it a solid center. It is a film circling rootlessness, an inescapable sense of elsewhere-ness haunting characters as they attempt to find their voice and their place in the world. Teles’ knack for reverie-like interludes, holding the pull of the moment within a larger meandering rhythm, endows Baan with a distinctive edge.

Baan screened at the Sarajevo Film Festival 2023.

Baan (2023) Movie Links: IMDb
Baan (2023) Movie Cast: Carolina Miragaia, Meghna Lall
Baan (2023) Movie Genre: Drama, Runtime: 1h 40m

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