Is the fear of saying “I love you” to someone a universal experience? Sarah Bahbah’s new short film I__ You inspects why it’s so hard to be vulnerable.
Sarah Bahbah self-identifies as a Palestinian/Jordanian-Australian artist and director. She has an instantly recognizable style, revealing her thoughts and emotions through pastel-embraced cinematic stills and films. Bahbah’s website says being “raised by Immigrant parents, her culturally conservative upbringing led to a great rebellion of art”.
Her work doesn’t shy away from the intimate, but rather discusses the power that comes from doing so. Bahbah has previously stated on her website her work is a way to take her power back. She embraces her desires and all the chaos they bring – celebrating, as she says on her website, “the liberation of guilt and shame.”
First gaining international recognition with her photo series 3EIB!, Bahbah has never been afraid to share her innermost thoughts with the world. Love is the anchor theme in all her work, whether it’s romantic, self-love, indulgence, desire or any other facet of the four-letter word.
I __ You
I __ You is Bahbah’s latest project. The short film follows the leading lady, Nailea Devora, as she questions what it means to say “I love you” in a new relationship. Bahbah dedicates the film to her current partner, noting that this is the first of her projects where she is “writing from a healthy heart, not a broken one.” According to the artist, the film encapsulates the uncertainty in wanting to expose her heart but fearing rejection.
In line with her previous work, this project’s colour scheme is heavily consistent of pastels, and in accordance with the traditional colours of love, has overarching red and pink tones. Once again, like her previous work, the film features food imagery and traditional Middle Eastern motifs. This four-minute film about a four-letter word is beautifully constructed and shot; each frame could stand by itself as a piece of art.
By the end of the film, the viewer is left with the same feeling they have after listening to their favourite love song, eating a long forgotten favourite food, or sitting down to watch a sunset after a long day. The film echoes the sentiment of a relationship coming to an end and the viewer is left to ponder what will happen next. While the film picks and prods at the consequences of a declaration of love, it never lays out all the possibilities. In the grand scheme of things, the future is uncertain, as is the meaning of love.
Ode to visuals
I __ You is a magnificent introduction to Sarah Bahbah. Regardless of how aware the viewer is of Bahbah’s work, this film is alluring. Watch it without the sound. Look at the stills on her Instagram. Stop the film at any random moment; you will always end up with something interesting to look at. Despite the fact humans have always been telling love stories, Bahbah manages to reinvent conversations about love without the aftertaste of clichés.
The artist’s following is almost cult-like, turning everything she releases into viral content. While there is no doubt Bahbah is a phenomenal artist, what makes audiences fall in love with her? Is it her vulnerability, how transparent she seems to be about her personal thoughts? Is it that viewers find sentiments reminiscent of themselves, who they used to be or the relationships they used to be part of?
While there are only so many answers provided by scrolling through Bahbah’s Instagram, at least doing so provides the viewer with an abundance of mesmerizing visuals and an indulgence in the questioning of love.
Bahbah re-establishes the idea that love can’t be hurried. Heartbreak can’t be cured but lived through. Confidence can’t be faked but grown into. Indulgence isn’t to be inhibited but celebrated. Similarly, the self – with all its flaws, desires, and needs – is to be honoured. Call it self-love or whatever label feels right, but Bahbah’s work makes it a point that before anything there must be an acceptance of the self.