Brooklyn-based filmmaker David Novack has crafted an intelligent, poetic and engaging documentation of Isaac Babel’s grandson’s search for his grandfather: writer, man, Jew, Russian. This search reveals small and large stories surrounding Babel, and it encompasses Russia, Brooklyn, France, Ukraine, and more. We witness the enduring power of words, the rising power of truth.
This information rich 88 minutes feels like a walk through many Babel realities, including his writing works that vividly recall real events -- is descriptions of occurrences so powerful, and threatening to the existing Stalinist regime that he was not simply murdered, he was secretly murdered. The authoritarian intent was to erase and blow away any remains of Isaac Emmanuelovich Babel/Case File #419/no inmate file/May 15, 1939.
Andrei Malaev-Babel’s search for his grandfather connects a personal search to the historical era that informs and provides cautionary revelations about authoritarian political action as it follows the trail leading to Babel’s execution, and brings his death out of the shadows.
Passages of Babel’s work are intermittent throughout the film and read by actor Liev Shreiber; like live bright pure strands of red or yellow, his words are woven through solid black, white or gray backdrops. The images accompanying the audio passages from Babel’s Red Calvary -- Crossing the Zbrucz, or Odessa Tales are visual poetry in material realm of film as sight and sound duet. The evocation is of the essence in Babel words that is immense and sufficient.
The stories moving and living around Babel’s life and writing include firstly Antonina Nikolaevna Pirozhkova, his second wife, an ember igniting Andrei Malaev-Babel’s search. She is extraordinary, and her very evident enduring connection to Babel is powerful reflection on him. This same reflection comes through time and again in the individuals speaking about Babel as well as the in the many erected tributes to him. Babel was cleared 14 years after his execution; the confiscated works were not found. Andrei Malaev-Babel’s search is filled with the sadness, joy, complexity and affirmation of his grandfather’s life as a Russian Jewish writer and intellectual. Finding Babel is an important, and appreciated film, a contemporary complement to Isaac Babel's life and work. - Carletta Joy Walker
Carletta Joy Walker is a New York-based writer, poet, artist, and storyteller who performs solo, and in ensemble with other writers, artists and musicians from all over the globe.