In 2018, Emma Seligman was a film student making her graduation piece, an eight minute short called Shiva Baby. Three years later, her feature debut has the same name and is an expanded version of the original, one panic-inducing day in the life of student Danielle (Rachel Sennott) as she confronts questions about her present and, perhaps more importantly, her future.
She’s just one of the many guests at a culmination of a shiva, a Jewish week long period of family mourning, and finds herself under near-interrogation by all and sundry about her career plans, weight loss and personal life – all well-intentioned, all intrusive and all demanding all her ingenuity in hiding the truth. Complicating matters and sending her stress levels through the roof are the arrival of her former lover, Maya (Molly Gordon) and her sugar daddy, Max (Danny Deferrari), who comes complete with wife and baby.
The rollercoaster combination of razor sharp humour and nerve shredding tension has invited comparisons with the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems, which Seligman personally loves, even though timings meant it wasn’t an actual inspiration for her film. Talking to The Peoples Movies’ Freda Cooper, she describes the demands of making a low budget movie, from the practicalities of the production office doubling as the hair and make up studio to the rigours of filming in an actual house instead of a set.
The youngest member of the cast, baby Edgar (who plays the infant Rosie) brought another set of challenges and was probably “the hardest thing about making the film“: his crying was so loud it threatened to drown all the other audio. But, as Seligman says, “he was a trooper.”
Shiva Baby is in cinemas for one day only on 9th June and released on MUBI on 11th June.