TIFF 2021 Review: Rebeca Huntt’s “Beba” Sees a Restless Creative Find Her Flow

An explanation of why Rebeca Huntt’s father was so intent on getting an apartment in Central Park West in “Beba” has no right being anywhere near as interesting as it is, but then again in Hunt’s explosive autobiographical film, there is something always intriguing under the surface of things. It’s already been explained that the director’s parents willingly gave up their bed for their three children to sleep on in their one-bedroom apartment, inspiring one to wonder why they sacrificed the space rather than live in a more affordable borough, with Huntt’s father recalling how after his family left the violence on a brutal dictatorship in the Dominican Republic under Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo where it wasn’t uncommon to hide under a mattress as protection from gunfire, the initial move to Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1966 that reminded him of bombed out streets in post-WWII Europe made him prioritize comfort of mind over anything else once he had his own kids. As unreasonable it may seem to someone else, it makes perfect sense as he talks about the experiences that shaped his thoughts.

His voice is what’s prominent, but family photos and splices of more generic yet apropos archival material flood the screen as he speaks and whether or not the story sounds familiar, the complexity of it is. In a nutshell, it’s indicative of Huntt’s galvanizing expression of her own personal perspective as a mixed-race millennial where cultural influences are allowed to live side by side on screen as sound and image do as a complete picture, as contradictory and complimentary as that can be. Huntt insists that you know it’s her you’re hearing from the jump, telling audiences, “You are now entering my experience,” and she isn’t a mood to compromise when even her own name has been a subject of debate within her family, shortened down to Beba by her mother after deciding earlier incarnations from Rebeca on weren’t ideal.

It isn’t the only thing she’s argued with her mother about in “Beba,” which explodes off the screen as a steady accumulation of various pieces of her identity coming together, but having a fragmentary style that also mirrors a family that is completely broken, with her father partial to her over her two older siblings, her mother showing more affection towards her brother and her sister left to find her own way. Remarkably, they still live together under one roof, but it’s an epic trip in between as Huntt works her way through college, exchanging dysfunctional families when she gravitates towards hanging out with a well-heeled caucasian crowd that one of her professors dismissively calls “the beautiful crowd” in retrospect. If Huntt feels misunderstood in the first half of the film by those she grew up around, creatively restless and eager for independence, it’s a slower betrayal by her classmates, whose white privilege likely secures them opportunities that are unavailable to her and as Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements become a hot topic of conversation, the less she can identify with those who only talk about race exclusively in theoretical terms.

Admirably, Huntt doesn’t present herself as the hero in all this, but rather a survivor, perhaps seeming narcissistic, pretentious or naive at times as she bullies her mother into an interview, recalls how she listened to Bob Dylan’s “How Does It Feel” on repeat after getting into college and boasts in her early twenties of entire countries she’ll never visit again – namely, her mother’s native Venezuela – but invites one to consider why she’s including scenes that make her look that way, clearly self-aware enough to know that they’re interesting if not outright revelatory and unafraid of showing the messy path to real epiphanies. The dazzling sensory experience aside, “Beba” feels like one of those memoirs where after turning the page the author has set fire to the last and while it’s a film about how legacies can be frustratingly predetermined, it blazes a trail so ferocious to suggest that not only is the future unwritten, but there is the exhilarating potential for it to be reflected in a new language.

“Beba” will screen at the Toronto Film Festival in person at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 14th at 10 am and virtually on September 12th at 3 pm and September 17th at 1 pm, available in Canada.