Bulgaria, France

Synopsis

An injured stork, a woman in the midst of postnatal depression, a young girl confronted with the stigma of HIV, a mother who seeks a little magic in the lunar calendar ... Sisters, mothers and daughters confront their fragilities and the absurdity of life as violent protests and debates about gender tear their country, Bulgaria, apart.

Director's Statement

Inspired by a true story, WOMEN DO CRY by Bulgarian directors Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova shines a light on the everyday experiences of women confronted with their own vulnerability and the absurdity of life: a medical opinion that turns their future inside-out, childhood trauma, and unsatisfying encounters. A film that celebrates female solidarity and self-expression, at a time when violent protests and gender debates are tearing Bulgaria apart. We come from a documentary background and took a serious beating for seemingly defaming people and ideas with our first documentaries. There were death threats, institutional harassment on all possible levels, slanderous articles, monthly interrogations from the public prosecutor in Bulgaria. We’ve always drawn inspiration from revealing injustice. There’s a lot of domestic violence in the world and it’s accepted as a norm. As it’s cool to keep quiet about it, the subject is swept under the carpet and it’s been there for so long it’s not considered true anymore. For example, violence is often blocked out from the memory. As the case is in Vesela’s family, we decided to delve into it without over-dramatizing and to use it as a background. We were in the unique situation of working with one family on their family story while all of them are professional actors. We used a bit of psychodrama and relied on team work and studies with the actors. They could define their own expression in this process. In theatre this takes weeks but we set the task in the evening and it had to be acted out the following day. This method allows for deeper trust to be established between director and creative team, especially when incorporating true events or rather emotional memories that took place in this family. The only outsider to this family of actors was a young girl called Maria Bakalova. Surprisingly, she then became the latest Hollywood sensation. It’s frightening to think that out of the 100 talented girls we cast, we could have chosen another one! Maria (Sonja) showed emotional maturity and an ability to go to extremes, which was crucial for the character of Sonja. Her quick mind, mobilisation and cool head in critical situations was important for our process as we imagine it was in BORAT 2. Ralitsa (Lora) has a quick and reflective mind. Her feistiness combined with warmth is reminiscent of Penélope Cruz. She loved Sonja as her own sister. This affection ultimately helped build an amazing chemistry and bond. Bilyana (Veronika), also the initiator of this project as a co-writer, possesses such a refined manner, which is difficult to see in cinema nowadays. Her facial expression is in complete harmony with her inner world. There was such seamless chemistry with the baby playing the role that there’s no doubt she’s her mother. Katia’s role (Anna) is one of the great surprises because she hadn’t acted in films professionally. Her childlike quality is infectious, especially at the age she portrays. There are just no actors of her age who could do this and it’s thanks to her great experience in stage theatre where they experiment with form and content. Vesela (Yoana) being also a director stepped into the role of the provocateur. Iossif (the father) is a legend of Bulgarian cinema but hasn’t had any roles since he had a massive stroke 15 years ago. He magically rebuilt his speech, which surprised the doctors. But what's more important is his passion for work and the flair he still has. A truly great actor. We learned that there’s always room for improvement even when it’s seemingly too late down the line. This project was changed inside-out from the moment it garnered initial support because the story that we were planning to shoot was too fictional and it felt far removed from our initial inspiration. We decided to change it completely by really diving deep into our wounds, emotions and motivation. We decided to explore darker corners that were left unvisited for 15 and more years. When we touched on that secret place, the circumstances started to arrange themselves magically. We no longer had to labour over it.

Director's Biography

The animation director Mina Mileva and award-winning actress Vesela Kazakova formed Activist38 in 2008. They have since gone on to rock the boat and earn the epithet ‘the demonic duo’ in their native Bulgaria and establish an international presence with the provocative documentaries UNCLE TONY, THREE FOOLS AND THE SECRET SERVICE and THE BEAST IS STILL ALIVE.

Despite the international success of these films with selections such as IDFA, AFI, Warsaw, Sarajevo, Goteborg, they haven’t been aired on Bulgarian television for years. The authors were interrogated by the public prosecutor at home for one and a half years. The attempts to land the pair in jail failed when European institutions got involved, the publicity increased and as Variety summarised those films act as “rare gadflies whose sting is causing a massive allergic reaction on the thin skin of Bulgaria’s filmmaking elite”.

Their first fiction film CAT IN THE WALL, supported by Media, premiered in the official competition at the Locarno Film Festival 2019 and SXSW for North America. It received the FIPRESCI award at the Warsaw Film Festival 2019 and it was part of the European Film Awards Feature Film Selection 2020. The film is on Amazon Prime for USA, HBO Europe, and released in 40-screen in Spain under the title Pequenos milagros en Peckham Street.

Mileva and Kazakova’s latest feature, WOMEN DO CRY, stars Borat Subsequent Movie Film breakout actress and Oscar® nominee Maria Bakalova. “The film’s raw, pulsating anger and some bravura performances make for an explosive drama that should win hearts and minds following its world premiere in Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2021", as quoted by Screen Daily.

The film is Bulgarian-French coproduction, supported by Bulgarian Film Centre, ARTE, Ile de France and Eurimages. It ranked among the six best films from the official Cannes selection according to Screen International and it received a warm critical reception as well as strong upcoming festival selections. The film received the prestigious Eurimages cash award Audentia (courage in Latin), given to a female director annually and is part of European Film Awards Feature Film Selection 2022.

Activist38 is behind the first Spanish-Bulgarian coproduction done in collaboration with Distinto films Barcelona. VASIL with a main Bulgarian protagonist is Avelina Prat’s feature debut. Well known Bulgarian actor Ivan Burnev took the lead role alongside really big names in Spanish cinema such as Karra Elejalde, (Spanish affair), and Susi Sanchez, known from Almodovar’s films.

Last year, Mileva and Kazakova were chosen as a Duo Jury president at Giornate degli Autori section of the Venice film festival 2021. The unprecedented choice of both a woman and a duo, was described as revolutionary by the organisers.

Activist38 has always been concerned about social and political topics, which creates indeed an activist editorial line. Experimenting with mixed genres and documentary matured into a lineup of cinematic fiction films, that also carried a strong social undertone and quite a bit of satire and a fair amount of humour. A German film critic humorously wrote: "No wonder so many Brits are pro Brexit if [two] Bulgarian women can steal a march on old working-class heroes like Ken Loach…”

FILMOGRAPHY:
2021 - WOMEN DO CRY, Feature
2019 - CAT IN THE WALL, Feature
2016 - THE BEAST IS STILL ALIVE, Documentary
2014 - UNCLE TONY, THREE FOOLS AND THE SECRET SERVICE, Feature
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Cast & Crew

Directed by: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova

Written by: Bilyana Kazakova, Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova

Produced by: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova, Christophe Bruncher

Cinematography: Dimitar Kostov

Editing: Donka Ivanova, Yann Dedet

Production Design: Marieta Tsenova, Maria Ilchovska

Costume Design: Marieta Tsenova

Make-Up & Hair: Greta Velikova

Original Score: Andy Cowton

Sound: Stéphane de Rocquigny

Visual Effects: Mohammed Zemmar, Mina Mileva

Casting: Vania Bajdarova

Cast: Maria Bakalova (Sonja), Ralitsa Stoyanova (Lara), Katia Kazakova (Ana), Bilyana Kazakova (Veronica), Vesela Kazakova (Yoana), Iossif Surchadjiev (The Father), Rositca Gevrenova (Maria), Diana Spasova (Didi), Dobriela Popova (Tina)

Nominations and Awards

  • Feature Film Selection 2022