Review: Baby reflects Cold War wariness in ‘Viktoria’
A somewhat epic blend of satire that melts into tragedy, “Viktoria” tells a tale of entitlement and disillusion in communist Bulgaria in the ’80s, before the fall of the Soviet bloc.
Boryana (a haunting Irmena Chichikova) is a young married woman who, despite her husband being a doctor and she being a librarian, lives in a hovel of an apartment with her steel-faced mother, whose only love is for the party.
Boryana’s husband, Ivan (Dimo Dimov), wants to have children, although intimacy is difficult with a glowering mother-in-law only a few feet away. All Boryana wants to do is sneak off to the bathroom and drink Coke while smoking a cigarette. She pines for America, or some place beyond the communist stranglehold.
Despite her best efforts to avoid it, Boryana becomes pregnant. Alas, she feels nothing for the child to come — her mother’s chill lives on in her — and that alienation turns physical when her baby, Viktoria, is born without an umbilical cord or belly button.
This is where the satire comes in: The head of the party imagines a world where mothers are no longer tethered to their young and declares Viktoria the baby of the decade. Suddenly Boryana and Ivan are given a car and a spacious apartment.
But Boryana still feels nothing for the child. Flash ahead seven years, and she continues to feel nothing for Viktoria (played by Daria and Kalina Vitkova at different ages), who has become an overindulged brat and national hero. Anything Viktoria does is magical in the eyes of the state.
And then the state crumbles, along with Viktoria’s exalted status. Boryana is ecstatic — it’s a new world — and if her family falls apart, so what?
This is writer-director Maya Vitkova’s first feature and she deftly blends the mundane, the operatic and the bittersweet. In “Viktoria” the sins of the mother, as well as the mother country, live on. But perhaps they may dim with time.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.
Running time: 155 minutes