Director Sergey Dvortsevoy’s Ayka opens with a beautiful shot of four newborn babies being rolled off on a small stretcher to their mothers at the maternity ward. The camera stays on the babies that are neatly swaddled in towels and placed in an orderly fashion. Each one of them is in a different state of consciousness. Two are wide awake, another one is fast asleep, and the fourth baby is still sleepy and taking offence to the squeaking noise of the moving stretcher. There is ample time for the audience to sink in every detail of the babies on the screen.
The nurse at the maternity ward places a crying baby next to its mother, who is still recovering from the delivery. She is told to breastfeed her newborn. Her inability to move suggests she is in a lot of pain. She slowly picks herself up, takes her belongings and goes towards the washroom. “Hurry up,” tells the nurse reminding her again that her baby is crying because of hunger. She simply nods and goes into the washroom within the ward. She suddenly quivers as she if she suffered an electric shock. She remembered something and all her physical pain takes the backseat.
The new mother ditches the hospital pyjamas for her own clothes and plans to sneak out from the ward. But, it’s not possible because of the vigilant nurses at the ward. Hence, she turns towards the window at the washroom. But, the window doors are frozen due to heavy snowing outside. With much physical effort, she manages to break open the door and escape, leaving her baby behind. Once on the street, the woman finds out that she is bleeding. But, she is not ready to stop. She braves her medical condition and sprints her way through the snow-covered streets of the Russian capital. She enters a chicken slaughterhouse. She had been skinning and gutting chickens for about two weeks now. And today is the payday. That money is very important to her. In fact, it is more important than her newborn baby. (Don’t rush to judge her just yet). But, her boss scoots away without paying her and her colleagues.
Like her job at the dirty slaughterhouse, the city has been clawing at her inch by inch and it won’t stop until it cleans her out. Her name is Ayka (Samal Yeslyamova) and her day has only begun. She still has to deal with police, loan sharks, abusive hostel warden, freezing temperature, and the seemingly never-ending search for a paying job.
There is no end to her suffering. She just hops from one pain to the next. Each one is more painful than the other. Samal Yeslyamova has delivered a strong performance as a marginalised woman, who has no time to pause and grieve for her losses. It is like she knows that the moment she stops moving, the city will devour her.