Film Review: ‘Viktoria’

Maya Vitkova's feature debut is strikingly assured and ambitious, up to a point.


Irmena Chichikova, Daria Vitkova, Kalina Vitkova, Mariana Krumova, Georgi Spasov, Katerina Angelova, Dimo Dimov.

A strikingly assured and ambitious feature debut for writer-director Maya Vitkova, at least to a point, “Viktoria” has a touch of “Garp” and “The Tin Drum,” as well as plenty of dryly absurdist Eastern European humor in its tale of a young woman whose first two decades of life are sharply divided by the fall of communism in Bulgaria. But the pic’s leisurely yet often bold and original progress abruptly reduces itself to a wearying chronicle of multi-character depression in its final third, dragging all emotional and metaphorical impact downhill with it. Ultimately disappointing results will nonetheless be of considerable interest to fest programmers; offshore commercial prospects are much less assured.

Absolutely fixated on an advertising-fueled dream of America, librarian Boryana (Irmena Chichikova) doesn’t want to bear children until she and doctor husband Ivan (Dimo Dimov) manage to flee Bulgaria — as well as her own humorless apparatchik mother (Mariana Krumova), with whom they’re forced to share a one-room Sofia apartment. But despite all folk-remedy attempts to thwart conception, Boryana becomes pregnant. Her sense of entrapment is only heightened after she gives birth to Viktoria — an immediate focus of state attention, not only because she’s curiously lacking a belly button, but also because she’s chosen as “Socialist Bulgaria Baby of the Decade.”

In the ensuing propagandic publicity blitz, the parents benefit from a clutch of perks, from their own modern apartment to the child eventually getting limo service to/from school. But this honor also means any hopes of illicit emigration are now futile. Boryana’s resentment manifests itself in an inability to produce breast milk, and sullen indifference toward both daughter and spouse. Meanwhile, red-haired Viktoria (played at age 9 by Daria Vitkova, then later on by sibling Kalina Vitkova) grows into a fabulously spoiled brat whose best friend is Comrade Zhivkov (Georgi Spasov as the real-life late head of state) — she even has a private line to his office — and whose every word or deed is fatuously applauded by party officials.

Popular on Variety

Of course, the fall of communism puts a fast end to this special treatment. While Boryana rejoices (at least briefly) in the system’s collapse, the cold air she blows toward her family grows no more temperate.

“Viktoria’s” first hundred minutes or so offer an arresting mix of satire, surrealism and ambivalently angsty drama, with the helmer in precocious full command of pacing, tone and aesthetics. But once the characters settle uneasily into the nation’s new era, their interpersonal dynamics and individual personalities turn wholly static, just when we expect them to radically evolve. This bewildering shrinkage of scale and verve carries right through the tepid fadeout.

Where Vitkova’s directorial authority initially keeps us interested in the protagonists, despite their minimal dialogue and deliberately mask-like performances (from the three generations of women, at least), they and the film now become frustratingly one-note in their collective emotional withdrawal. (Only Dimov as the father is permitted some human warmth, and he’s never allowed to be a focal point; the few peripheral figures aren’t developed at all.) Pic starts with a “based on a true story” title, so presumably the auteur is being faithful to some “semi-autobiographical” (also her term) truth. But given the script’s long gestation period, it seems odd that along the way, no one pointed out what a letdown its last laps are. Still, so much of “Viktoria” heralds such a fascinating filmic sensibility that one eagerly looks forward to whatever Vitkova does next.

Assembly is first-rate down the line, with particularly fine contributions from d.p. Krum Rodriguez’s often striking widescreen compositions (ditto use of slo-mo), editor Alexander Etimov’s succinctly evocative montages of historical news footage, and a wittily diverse range of pre-existing soundtrack choices.

Film Review: 'Viktoria'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema — competing), Jan. 22, 2014. Running time: 155 MIN.


(Bulgaria) A Viktoria Films production in co-production with Mandragora. (International sales: Viktoria Films, Sofia.) Produced by Maya Vitkova. Co-producer, Anca Puiu.


Directed, written by Maya Vitkova. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Krum Rodriguez; editor, Alexander Etimov; production designer, Rin Yamamura; art director, Asen Bojilov; costume designer, Kristina Tomova; sound, Ivan Andreev; sound designer, Kamen Agtanasov; assistant director, Boris Taskov.


Irmena Chichikova, Daria Vitkova, Kalina Vitkova, Mariana Krumova, Georgi Spasov, Katerina Angelova, Dimo Dimov.

More Film

  • Brand Storytelling 2020 Sundance

    Sundance 2020: Brand Storytelling Lineup Set for 5th Annual Media and Marketing Event

    Brand Storytelling is returning to Park City this year to host its fifth annual media and marketing event at the Sundance Film Festival, with a lineup of keynotes, panels, screenings, music performances and more. Launched in 2016, the company’s “festival within a festival” at Sundance will again bring together execs from major brands with media [...]

  • Terry Jones, Director of Monty Python

    Terry Jones, Monty Python Co-Founder, Dies at 77

    Terry Jones, co-founder of Monty Python, died Wednesday after a long struggle with dementia. He was 77. Jones was instrumental in creating the wacky, absurdist style of comedy that Monty Python made famous in the 1970s and directed two of the English comedy group’s most successful films, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Monty [...]

  • Legion M Launches Film Scout Mobile

    Film News Roundup: Legion M Launches Film Scout Mobile App at Sundance

    In today’s film news roundup, Legion M is launching its Film Scout mobile app, the first round of Oscar presenters are unveiled, Verve is expanding its book-to-screen business, “Gladiator” producer David Franzoni boards an American Indian project, and XYZ announces promotions. SUNDANCE LAUNCH Fan-owned Legion M is launching its Film Scout mobile app at this [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    APA Reaches Deal With Writers Guild of America

    APA has reached a deal with the Writers Guild of America, ending a nine-month standoff over allowing the agency to represent guild members. The full-service agency made the announcement Tuesday, four days after the Gersh agency signed a similar deal with the WGA. It’s the sixth mid-size agency to accede to the WGA’s bans on [...]

  • UTA Sundance

    UTA Marketing Ups Sundance Game With Private Residence, Programming

    Talent agency hospitality is a mainstay at the Sundance film Festival, be it in swanky lounges on Park City’s Main Street or private chalets in nearby Deer Valley. United Talent Agency, whose talent roster and independent film group always come in force each year, typically throws a brunch for friends and press — but will [...]

  • Joel Silver

    Silver Pictures Settles with Family of Assistant Who Died on Bora Bora Trip

    Silver Pictures has reached a confidential settlement with the family of Carmel Musgrove, the assistant to Joel Silver who was found dead in a Bora Bora lagoon in 2015. Musgrove’s family filed a wrongful death suit in 2017, alleging that she had been overworked and furnished with drugs and alcohol during the trip. The family [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content