Monia Chokri’s film Babysitter is a wild and audacious takedown of misogyny

“It’s broadly comic, but incredibly aggressive. With rapid-fire editing, larger-than-life performances and an almost oppressive use of close-ups, the film feels like an assault.”

Babysitter opens with a series of grotesque, invasive close-ups. Men are at a UFC match, and they’re drunk, and they’re screaming. It’s a group of friends looking at the photo of a woman on the phone. Unable to agree on her physical virtues, they invite the opinion of two younger women in front of them to comment. The scene is raucous and overwhelming, and as the scene comes to an end, an overhead camera refocuses on the fight as two men grapple on a white mat, covered in blood. 

By the end of this boy’s night out, Cédric (Patrick Hivon) will have kissed a TV reporter without her consent on live TV, putting his life and his family in a tailspin.

Babysitter is based on a play by Catherine Léger and is the sophomore feature of actress-turned-director Monia Chokri, whose first feature, La femme de mon frère, was one of the most critically acclaimed Quebec films of 2019. In this film, we witness the parallel stories of a husband, Cédric, and his wife, Nadine (Monia Chrokri). Their lives are disrupted by the stress of very public humiliation and the wife’s burning postpartum depression. After they hire a babysitter, Amy (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), their lives change drastically. 

The movie’s tone is what stands out immediately. It’s broadly comic in its intonation and incredibly aggressive. As the film tackles the world of misogyny, it takes on the leering lens of a lecherous man, who reduces women to unconnected body parts: lips, breasts, and flesh. The movie captures the cultural dissonance that dismisses male misbehaviour as it downplays its long-term impact on those it victimizes. Due to the rapid-fire editing, larger-than-life performances and almost oppressive use of close-ups, the film feels like an assault, an exhausting and overbearing experience. 

The film’s approach to the patriarchy and misogyny cleverly centres on men who are “well-meaning.” Cédric’s brother, Michel (Steve Laplante), is a journalist who likes to take on feminist causes and scorns his brother for his terrible behaviour. As the film goes on, the pair decide to write a book of letters addressing their misogyny in the hopes of writing a best-seller; an ultimately ego-driven and self-serving project that offers a limited reflection on their privilege, casual misogynistic actions and practical considerations for improving the condition of women. 

Patrick Hivon, Monia Chokri and Steve Laplante in Babysitter
Patrick Hivon, Monia Chokri and Steve Laplante in Babysitter

The presence of the babysitter seems to open up a strange portal in the lives of Cédric and Nadine, where the walls between dream and reality seem to collapse. The over-extended Nadine, in particular, is especially moved by the babysitter’s imagination. She begins receiving strange, magical gifts as her husband drifts further and further away. The film subverts the clichés in which the bouncing, beautiful babysitter enchants the husband and redirects mutual attention on the women, who find a strange (if mysterious) kinship.

Often frustrating and occasionally beguiling, Babysitter takes risks and pushes boundaries. It avoids all subtlety favouring maximalist images and performances, choosing the “more is more” ethos to filmmaking. It’s not clear if it all works. The movie feels uneven and even hacky at times. While it’s largely the “point,” many of the characters are obnoxious and unreasonably blind to their hypocrisies. As the movie moves towards its ending, it also feels like it peeters off slightly, going out with a whimper rather than a bang. 

At the very least, Babysitter demonstrates Chokri’s strong sense of image and her audaciousness. Her filmmaking is not stagnant but emboldened with risky choices that don’t always pay off. While many in Quebec cinema seem content with recycling the same stories and the same aesthetic decisions, she stands out as a filmmaker looking forward. It won’t make everyone happy, but it’s no less admirable. ■

Babysitter, directed by Monia Chokri

Babysitter opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, June 3.

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