Review by Sean Boelman
Vesela Kazakova and Mina Mileva’s Women Do Cry caused quite a stir upon its debut at Cannes in 2021, and it is now making its debut in the States at SXSW. It’s understandable why this film has been met with so much heat, because it’s so provocative, but the questions it poses are interesting and insightful enough for it to work.
The movie is a kaleidoscopic portrait of a family of women in Romania as they are faced with tremendous challenges. Even though it is a slice-of-life film in terms of its style, it’s anything but laid back in its approach. This is a tremendously angry movie, and its virility is a big part of what makes it so affecting.
With a film that is as ambitious as this and deals with so many themes, it’s not going to be able to pull off everything with an enormous amount of nuance. But the goal here isn’t to be particularly graceful — it is to get an emotional reaction out of the viewer, and it definitely pulls that off.
Admittedly, there are some stories in the movie that are more effective than others. And even within the individual characters’ arcs, there are lots of ups and downs in terms of how effective it is. The AIDS portion of the film is especially uneven, as there are some portions which are resonant and others which are on the problematic side.
The most interesting thing about the movie is how it explores the idea of stigmas. Although the film is specifically about Romanian culture and the biases and prejudices held in it, there are a lot of things about this that will resonate globally. And Kazakova and Mileva don’t pull any punches with what they are doing.
Maria Bakalova got an Academy Award nomination for her breakout role in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and her leading role here couldn’t be more different. It’s a performance that is both very physical and very emotional, and Bakalova pulls it off in a way that packs a punch, even if it isn’t especially subtle.
Kazakova and Mileva’s style is very rough around the edges, heightening the realism of the situation. And while it isn’t the most agreeable or pleasant to watch, it really accentuates the themes of the movie in a powerful way. We are getting a glimpse into the seediness of society, and so it is only fitting that it is unsettling.
Women Do Cry is the type of film that is quite heated and frustrating, but its whole purpose is to stick with the audience, and it will certainly do that. Its lack of subtlety has and will continue to earn it detractors, but that just goes to show it’s working.
Women Do Cry is screening at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 11-19.