Starring Irmena Chichikova, Daria Vitkova, Kalina Vitkova, Mariana Krumova, Georgi Spasov, Katerina Angelova and Dimo Dimov.
Screenplay by Maya Vitkova.
Directed by Maya Vitkova.
Distributed by Big World Pictures. 155 minutes. Not Rated.
The relationships between estranged two generations of mothers and daughters, as seen through the spectrum of about a decade which coincided with the end of socialism in Bulgaria, is explored in Viktoria.
It starts out a dark, rather cold and sterile film, in which a young woman, miserable in her home life and desperate to escape and see the world, learns that she is pregnant. It is not a wanted pregnancy (well not for her, for her husband it is the answer to a dream), and she makes it quite clear that she does not have any interest in being a mother in the socialist regime.
When the baby surprisingly becomes something of a propaganda tool for the ruling government, the mother only feels more trapped. The distantly formal relationship she has with her own mute mother also has not helped with her maternal instinct. Pregnancy and motherhood are just another unwanted chore to her, another obstacle to her constantly thwarted dreams. It is only when the socialist government falls and the women really have to struggle that they are finally able to find an understanding of each other.
The first-time film by writer/director Maya Vitkova is intriguing, visually ambitious, occasionally darkly humorous, symbolic, surreal and heartfelt, but ultimately rather slow-moving and eventually way too long. (It clocks in at over two and a half hours!)
The movie starts in the depressing flat of Boryana (Irmena Chichikova) and husband Ivan (Dimo Dimov), trying to make love in the dark without waking her mother, who sleeps in the same room. When Ivan tells her that he can feel that they made a baby, she numbly replies, “What baby?”
However, it turns out that he is right, she is pregnant. She forlornly goes about the act of preparing for motherhood, doing the bare minimum to help the baby inside her grow to be healthy (for example, she continues smoking throughout the pregnancy.) She becomes morose and moody and drinks insane amounts of milk. And while she keeps insisting that they should move before the baby comes, it never happens.
When the baby is born, it is born without an umbilical cord or a belly button. Apparently the mother’s apathy towards her own child was somehow made real – Boryana was not so much protecting, feeding and nurturing the fetus so much as she was providing a vessel for her birth. There is no connective tissue between mother and daughter.
For some reason the national Socialist party seems to be extremely taken by this strangely quiet baby with no belly button – perhaps they figured that if the proletariat did not have navels they would not gaze at them and spend their time as happy workers – and they decide to use the baby as a bit of state propaganda. They fudge her birthday by a day or so to claim she was born on the day of the country’s most important national holiday and claim that she is the miracle socialist baby of the decade. Her parents are given gifts – including a car, better jobs and a nicer apartment – but they are not allowed to leave because Viktoria is so important to keeping the common people happy.
Over the years, the little girl is doted on by the people, showered with gifts, cheers and love. She even has a direct line to the head of the party. It’s a heady for a little girl, and by the time she is nine-years old, she is completely out of control, a horribly headstrong and bratty child who expects her every need to be met. Her acting out is somewhat understandable, even her smallest act is applauded and followed by crowds. And her mother, who was already very ambivalent about motherhood, just feels more strongly that Viktoria is an anchor around her neck.
Honestly, Viktoria’s good-natured, long-suffering father, who has to deal with years of his wife’s cold, dark, bitter moods, before adding a completely out-of-control brat of a daughter to the equation, seems to be the one to be the most deserving of praise and celebration.
The fall of communism in their homeland changes everything. While people around the world celebrate the tumbling of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union, for the family the change is different. Viktoria loses her celebrity. Suddenly, she has to come to terms with being just a normal girl. The grandmother is growing frail and afraid of the changes in her world. Boryana smiles for the first time in the length of the movie while attending a pro-democracy rally. She also takes a lover, cruelly cuckolding her husband and further estranging her daughter.
It isn’t for several more years and the more world changes, that daughter, mother and grandmother finally learn a bit of nurturing energy and the possibility of understanding.
Viktoria actually works better as a long-running episodic history of an era of Bulgarian history than it does as a personal family drama. Much like its characters, it sometimes feels like it is too frightened to explore its feelings and deeper meanings. The movie eventually comes off as starkly beautiful, but emotionally remote. Only in the end does an icy detente start to take hold.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 10, 2016.