AFI Fest 2014: ‘Viktoria’

Director Maya Vitkova’s satirical movie takes us into a surreal world of a dysfunctional family and country in “Viktoria.” The title refers to a baby born into the world unattached to her mother by an umbilical cord and attached to the fate of Bulgaria.

Librarian Boryana (Irmena Chichikova) and her doctor husband Ivan (Dimo Dimov) want to run away from home. Home is Bulgaria and they have been making arrangements to escape from the one-room apartment they share with Boryana’s mother (Mariana Krumova). This is the 1970s on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. Despite the lack of privacy, the couple has intimate relations and Boryana takes precautions against pregnancy, but they fail.

Finding herself pregnant, Boryana makes several attempts to abort the baby. Somehow her attempts severe the cord and the child is born without a belly button. TV fans might think the girl would make a perfect genie for “I Dream of Jeannie.” Viktoria doesn’t need a wish. All of hers are granted but for ridiculous reasons. When the nation’s leaders are looking for a baby to become the “Socialist Bulgaria Baby of the Decade” from children born on 9 September–the anniversary of the left-wing uprising, they choose this belly button-less girl.

Viktoria was actually born on 8 September. The child born on the ninth, Stefcho, was born with a physical handicapped and so was passed over.

The two children grow up together but not equally.  Viktoria has become the child of the state. Her parents get a lovely red car and a nice modern apartment. Viktoria’s best friend is Comrade Zhivkov (Georgi Spasov). Zhivkov is a political hotshot and Viktoria has a private line to his office. He gives her parties where adults are forced to clap for her as she bangs on the piano and prances around. She gets a red bicycle with balloons tied to the handle on her 10th birthday.

Yet all that privilege comes to an end in 1989. The communist government collapses in November. Boryana rejoices but her daughter must face being an ordinary person to be judged on her merits. Boryana hasn’t been much of a mother, still harboring anger over Viktoria’s inopportune birth. Her husband asks, “Does the word mother mean anything to you?” and condemns her for the “pile of nasty things” she did to get rid of her.

Yet circumstances force Boryana and Viktoria together. They are not a happy family but even kids with belly buttons have dysfunctional families.

“Viktoria” says a lot about privilege and politics. The film was nominated for the New Director’s Showcase Award at the Seattle International Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize from Sundance Film Festival.

“Viktoria” isn’t about reality and toward the end doesn’t find a way of tying up all themes yet it offers some interesting views of life during the communist rule.




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