The Indian childminder and narrator in “They call me babu” (2019) explains with some surprise what is meant by “babu”. It is not an existing term in Bahasa. “It is a word from the Belandas. As if they want to say two words at the same time. Miss “Ba”. And “boo” from mother. ” The babysitter, the babu, who has been hired to take care of little Jantje still has to get used to it. A name that expresses the identity confusion of colonial rule; being addressed in your own language and yet not. It is one of the subtle ways that filmmaker Sandra Beerends in “They call me babu” fluently, without overriding morals, sketches a personal history about colonial rule, male and female relationships, political ambitions and war.
Alima, who fled her village to avoid a forced marriage, finds work in the city as a babu for a Dutch family. And although she loves to take care of Jantje, she has to get used to the Western life dictated by the clock. The theme returns more often, Alima is used to getting up when the sun comes up, the Dutch when the alarm goes off. And the Japanese make it even crazier, under their occupation the day in the Dutch East Indies starts when the sun rises in Japan. When Alima travels with the family to the cold and dark Netherlands, she does not feel at home at first, but to her surprise she is addressed as “madam” in shops and she is also suddenly entitled to days off. The relationship with the Belandas does not appear to be written in stone.
“They call me babu” is a series of unique and at times beautiful archive images that bring the Dutch East Indies of the first half of the twentieth century to life. The images support Babu Alima’s personal story. Sometimes the images closely match the narration and sometimes Beerends looks for a more poetic fusion of the melancholic voice of Alima and, for example, dreamy, snow-white images of workers in the kapok industry. Effortlessly we let this beautiful interplay take us to another world for more than an hour and a quarter.