Women Do Cry, a powerful Bulgarian drama, premiered at SXSW 2022. In this profound film, writers/directors Vesela Kazakova and Mina Mileva explore intergenerational family issues. They also reveal how paternalism and women’s oppression prevail in Bulgaria’s social fabric. These factors contribute to the problems the women in the family endure. All of them chafe against male domination. On the brink, they have had enough.
Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) is Sonja
Sonja, played by the amazing actress Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm), is the focus of the family’s drama. Her performance reveals authenticity and depth.
Sonya is continually at odds with older sister Lora (Ralitsa Stoyanova), but they grow closer when Sonya tests positive for HIV. The female doctor assures her about the life-saving medications available, but the devastated Sonja ignores her. First, she must confront the truth that her lover lied about his marriage and young child. Secondly, she must face the fact that he knew he had the virus. She can’t imagine why he hadn’t told her. Perhaps it was out of his own selfish sense of privilege. Because Bulgarians regard people with HIV as untouchables, his behavior appears utterly heartless.
Sonja also compares herself to Lora’s successes. Lora enjoys sex, sleeps around, and takes control of her life. She takes precautions and uses condoms, and had scolded Sonja about protection. Sonja ignored her. Now, Sonja acknowledges her “unluckiness.” How can she endure?
The film chronicles Sonja’s initial panic and her experiences of shame and prejudice when she tells a male doctor about her diagnosis. She rebels against the social stigma of illness. But she can’t ignore her lover’s brutal coldness. Thus, her self-hate and lack of self-forgiveness propel her to refuse treatment. When she lashes out against family, they try to understand. Lora tries to help her with wisdom and logic. But Sonja can’t get out of her own way.
Against the backdrop of Sonja’s illness, the filmmakers highlight the misery of the other women in the family. Sonja’s and Lora’s mother sustained abuse throughout her life. Unwittingly, the abuse has been passed down to her children. Certainly, the patriarch has the position of power. Following social and familial tradition, he subjects the women to his prejudicial views and behavior. Lora who has an important job receives harassment from the men. One, whom she almost has sex with, carries no condoms. She spurns him but his anger threatens her position. Again, we see the men’s careless attitude.
Finally, there is their aunt Veronica (Bilyana Kazakova), who quit a beloved high-powered job to care for her baby alone. The father is gone. With no help, she grows increasingly frantic and suicidal. The scene where she perches on a railing deciding whether to jump, while the baby cries furiously, throws the notion of the “joys of motherhood” on its head.
Past and Present Clash
Both past traditions and present social changes in Bulgaria impact the family. Driven by folktales, the family takes Sonja for a healing at a sacred shrine. Rejecting the superstition, Lora attempts to get her sister to take the medication which will save her life. Lora gains strength from the LGBTQ rights movement which is politically anathematized. Of course, the movement understands the emotional and physical realities of HIV. Will Lora persuade Sonja to take the medications?
Women Do Cry‘s symbolism grows clear by the conclusion of the film. It’s an exposé of paternalism in Bulgaria, attitudes that dovetail with some of the social attitudes in the U.S. The cultural synchronicity astounds. Though the film slowly unwinds its story through organic characterizations, have patience. The directors design each shot carefully for maximum emotional effect. Thus, when the joyful moments arrive, they can be appreciated fully. Life’s ups and downs, the weal and woe wind intricately and beautifully through Vesela Kazakova’s and Mina Mileva’s work.
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