Baby, Don’t Cry [FantasiaFest ’21]

Premiering at the Fantasia International Film Festival, Jesse Dvorak’s Baby, Don’t Cry is a coming-of-age fable that deals with poverty, drugs, and a troubled romance between a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old. Based on the true story of writer Zita Bai, it deals with the familial trauma and tragedy of losing a parent and dealing with taking care of another while also being pressured to be the family’s sole breadwinner. It’s a beautiful and innocent look at a romance between two kids as they embark on a journey to disentangle themselves from the life they are leading, to be free from the traumas of their past lives, as well as the troubles and racial aggressions towards a Chinese immigrant in a Western country. 

Baby (Zita Bai) is a Chinese immigrant who aspires to be a filmmaker and comes from a troubled home. Her life consists of cleaning houses to get extra cash, going to school and taking care of her mother (Helen Sun) after her father’s death. She befriends Fox (Vas Provatakis), a delinquent from the streets of Seattle, they begin a troubling relationship, and she starts skipping school to spend more time with him. They spend most of their time driving in his car, smoking cigarettes, spraying graffiti on walls and recording each other. After a fight, Fox and Baby reconcile, and he suggests that they get married and move to Texas. The only person in this journey is Baby’s mother who tries to kill her when she tries to leave. 

Baby, Don’t Cry explores the troubled relationship between mother and daughter while also dealing with the burden of taking care of a sick parent. It’s a look at the innocent and inspiring dreams of a young immigrant girl who wants to be a filmmaker when she grows up. Through her cam recorder’s footage, the audience can see her world through her eyes, an incandescent and intimate, and sometimes strange curiosity for things that would be deemed abnormal in the Western world. It opens the door to her world, young and confusing, as she tracks her life in the suburbs, at home with her parents, and her relationship with Fox. There is no explanation for her father’s death, but Baby and her father have a different relationship from her mother. Baby’s quietness could be because she is dealing with her father’s death.

Even if Baby, Don’t Cry is a coming-of-age movie that explores the relationship between Baby and Fox, it is important to note that their intimate moments are disturbing to watch. With their curiosity and optimism to explore the world and their romance, there are scenes where both lash out and attack each other when there is a misunderstanding. 

Adam Leene’s cinematography is refreshing and powerful, as it focuses on bringing Baby’s trauma to the centre of the film. Baby and Fox’s relationship is portrayed through an emphasis on the character’s emotions with close-up shots. The vulnerable performances by Bai and Provatakis are translated through a raw and intimate quietness that sometimes turns violent and chaotic. While many sequences capture their time together, from stealing a wedding dress and getting chased down the street to capturing happy moments between them, it captures their emotional journey regardless of the ups and downs. After Fox breaks up with Baby, she goes to the beach and sings a song in a scene where she goes to the beach. This beautiful shot overlooks the beach and land nearby as she sits on the bench, listening to the dominating sound of the waves crashing. 

While Baby, Don’t Cry deals with trauma and the journey of innocent and codependent romance between Fox and Baby, Bai’s stories explore Chinese mythologies and folk tales, and this movie sets a new stage by bringing a new perspective on Gen Z. Baby’s dependency on Fox and her hopes to escape the trauma and troubled home is adventurous and yet translates to the sacrifices that immigrant parents and kids go through in their lives. Perhaps, Baby, Don’t Cry is a tale about escaping and highlighting the plights of immigrant life in a western world, through the lens of a young teenager curious about how the world works. Her complexity and curiosity is nothing but the innocent phase of teenage life as she grapples with trauma, death and love.