Stories about women and their place in the world are frequently eye-opening and often upsetting, and co-writers and co-directors Mina Milevas and Vesela Kazakova’s “Women Do Cry” is no different.
The film presents a story with a bleak look at the reality of life for Sonja (Maria Bakalova) and her sister Lora (Ralitsa Stoyanova), two young women living in Bulgaria who seem to communicate solely through bickering. They and the other females in their family are oppressed and suppressed by an anti-feminist culture, where just getting through the day proves to be a struggle.
The story is a glimpse into the female psyche that’s raw, set within the confines of a culture that doesn’t exactly value women, and against a backdrop of a city that’s crumbling around them.
Lora is dealing with sexism in the workplace, while Sonja learns that she’s tested positive for HIV after having unprotected sex with a married man whom she assumed was a safe partner. At just 19 years old, Sonja begins to see her life flash in front of her eyes as her world falls apart. Her family is dealing with the diagnosis and the reality that her life could be soon ending in varying ways.
Her single mother, who relies heavily on astrology and puts her faith in the metaphysical, is in denial. Her aunt is suffering with such a horrendous case of post-partum depression that she can’t even think straight. Lora wants her to agree to advanced medical treatment, but Sonja insists that God will hear her prayers and will cure her. The film embodies the anger and despair of having a disease, and captures how it affects those closest to the afflicted.
The film features frank discussions about female sexuality and sexism in modern Bulgaria, and there are a handful of truly horrifying moments that will stick with me for a while.
One is an appalling scene where Sonja is refused treatment by a gynecologist after she reveals her HIV-positive status. The doctor calls her a “liberal slut” and worries that she could “contaminate his materials.”
The other is when her aunt contemplates taking a deadly leap from her high rise apartment building, unable to get the mental health treatment she so desperately needs. It gets so bad that she pulls a knife on her crying infant.
This is not an uplifting film, to say the least.
There is one big problem that is still bothering me, and it’s that the film feels like it’s stigmatizing HIV. Sonja is viewed as bad and dirty, not a victim. I suppose that may be how patients are viewed in that part of the world, but it would have been so much more empowering if the writers had tried to soften that perspective within the narrative.
While the film’s abrupt and unsatisfying ending does it no favors, “Women Do Cry” is unafraid to tackle some very tough issues head on. That in itself is to be commended.