Indonesia’s shifting colonial landscape is examined through startling archival footage and the remarkable story of one nanny who, while caring for a Dutch family, braved occupation and social upheaval to find her own independence.
A narrator’s voice speaking to her dead mother floats through this engaging and enlightening piece of cinema, harking back to ancient home movies and newsreels. Yet these artefacts are bound together to make a thoroughly modern statement. We follow the Indonesian babu (nanny) of the title, Alima, as she escapes an arranged marriage and seeks the opportunity to travel and broaden her horizons. The Dutch family with whom she is employed is symbolic of seemingly benevolent colonisers, yet are entrenched in the belief in their right to rule, even as World War II intervenes and sees the country overrun by another invading force. All the while we see Alima’s growth as an independent woman who, when allowed to be educated and have free thought, understands the shackles of colonisation must be thrown off to achieve real freedom.
Director Sandra Beerends has expertly assembled the testimonies of several nannies of this time and threads this through archival film prints which dance with life even as they reveal an age that has long since passed. In the end, we’re left with a profound and moving statement from a woman who speaks with a voice of clear conviction for self-determination. — Chris Hormann
About the Filmmaker
Sandra Beerends is a script editor, creative producer and writer/director who works for the Dutch broadcaster NTR and runs her own company, Beruang. They Call Me Babu is her debut feature as a writer/director.