Opening 18 Apr 2019
Ayka (Samel Yeslyamova) lives a miserable life alone in direst poverty on the back streets of Moscow. She illegally shares backroom quarters with other needy residents, each thankful just to have mattress space. She shivers through the snow, looking for jobs such as plucking chickens, helping at a film studio, washing cars, or even shoveling snow for some pennies. She lost one job due to absenteeism; another boss disappeared with the workers’ earnings. Her work permit has expired. Most successful was a job in a veterinarian’s office, where the animals were better off than she was. Here, she befriends another worker who feels compassion, but who draws the line at lending money, as does her sister. Money already borrowed is impossible to repay in spite of daily, threatening reminders by Urmat (Kenzhebek Karybaev). With her Asian looks, she identifies as a minority, a member of the Kyrgyz group. But that’s not all. She gives birth to a baby boy, hides in the clinic bathroom and then escapes out the window, leaving the child behind. The depressing results of this decision are not as obvious as the afterbirth bleeding, and breasts full of milk, susceptible to infection.
This is just five days in the life of Ayka. Perhaps it could go on forever. Perhaps there is just a glimmer of hope at the end. Talented Samel Yeslyamova is present in all 110 minutes and definitely deserved her award as best actress during the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. This is her second full feature film. Ayka, which was filmed in and around Moscow, also provides a chance to experience many other international actors, who might have been unfamiliar. Interesting is that no matter how destitute one is, a mobile phone is always the one affordable item, even to the point of paying for new numbers when one wishes to remain incognito. (Becky Tan)