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Viktoria Magazine – fierce and urgent intergenerational history of communist bloc Bulgaria | Movie

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MAya Vitkova’s eloquent, ambitious and emotionally engaging drama Viktoria premiered at Sundance 10 years ago and is very much deserving of its UK streaming release now. This excellent film would be a striking achievement for anyone – and it was in fact Vitkova’s directorial debut. It feels fierce and urgent: fantastically conceived, performed and shot. Viktoria is an intergenerational story of Bulgarian women before and after the revolutions of 1989, a film which, perhaps in its absurdism, skepticism and slow passion, shows the influences of Romanian director Radu Jude, with whom Vitkova worked on short films. On television, Vitkova produced an episode of Michael Palin’s travel series New Europe on BBC TV, crossing the Balkans; Interestingly, Viktoria has an image of someone walking on snow, then being knocked down by a giant hand from the sky.

In Sofia, Bulgaria, in the low morale of the 1970s, a young woman named Boryana (Irmena Chichikova) plots her escape from the bleak Eastern Bloc with her doctor husband Ivan (Dimo Dimov); she dreams of the United States and has a lighter in the shape of the Statue of Liberty. His disloyal views are not at all shared by his mother Dima (Mariana Krumova), a die-hard communist who cannot conceive of any existence other than submission to the (male) power structure of the party. When Boryana becomes pregnant, she is horrified and does everything she can to abort the child; she does not have in her the milk of maternal kindness. Milk must be the main image of the film, that of frustration and discontent – ​​along with the blood of the much-desired miscarriage.

But her baby daughter Viktoria – who we first see bobbing in the womb as a strange red presence – was born on Bulgarian Victory Day, September 9, without an umbilical cord or navel. The party authorities decide that this baby is the symbol of a bold young country, in a state of permanent revolutionary renewal, without the navel of old loyalties. Thus Viktoria and her family benefit from special privileges, always under the control of the authorities, thus definitively ruining Boryana’s chances of escaping discreetly. Viktoria grows up to be a pampered and grumpy 10-year-old (Daria Vitkova) who is allowed to inspect the navels of her classmates at her special school and use a special phone line to call her beloved godfather, the Prime Minister. As for Boryana, she is in a state of catatonic resentment: she only smiles once, 50 minutes into the film, when she thinks she might be about to run away.

Then the Berlin Wall falls and the grandmother, mother and daughter become orphans; the umbilical cord that connected them to their various emotional certainties has disappeared. Dima falls back into shock, a bit like his daughter’s silent resentment; Boryana isn’t sure what to think of the new freedom at home, even though she spent her life assuming it could only exist abroad. Young Viktoria becomes a teenager (now played by Kalina Vitkova); all of her rights as a princess have been confiscated, but she reaches a new type of maturity through a closer relationship with her grandmother.

Viktoria’s power lies in the tragedy of an unused life, an unused passion, an untapped potential and an unrealized existence. For Boryana and his generation, 1989 and the end of communism were a seismic but uninterpretable event; they were not old enough (like Dima) to have known the security of the old communist methods, nor young enough (like Viktoria) to fully enjoy the new freedoms. The film shows that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is something strange, drifting, almost disappointing. Hideous as postwar communism was, it was, in some ways, a great period, full of drama, purpose, and meaning; now that’s gone, and they’re left with an emptiness, as empty as Viktoria’s belly buttonless. There is a sense of loss, but also something else: the possibility of reinvention and a wiped historical slate clean.

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