Saturday, November 18, 2023

NY Baltic ’23: Soviet Milk

Astra has not had many positive male models in her life. She never knew her dad, who disappeared while in the hands of the Soviet occupiers and the father of her own daughter is no longer in the picture. Arguably, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s study of the underclass resulting from the breakdown of the family unit could have applied just as well to Latvia. Even though she is a gifted doctor, Astra is so embittered by the Communist system, she believes her own milk is toxic, so she withholds it from her baby Nora in Inara Kolmane’s Soviet Milk, which screens virtually as part of the 2023 New York Baltic Film Festival.

She was a shy but bright student, so it only follows Astra became a gifted doctor. However, her mothering skills and instincts are lacking. Since she cannot be bothered, Nora will largely be raised by her grandparents (Astra’s mother and her step-father, who is a decent man, but he too has been badly damaged by the Communist system).

When Astra secures a prestigious residency in Leningrad, she leaves Nora behind without a second thought. Ironically, her specialty becomes fertility, helping desperate women get pregnant. Unfortunately, she ruins her career when she violently confronts a serial domestic-abuser, because the authorities automatically side with him, against her. As a result, the only posting open to her is a remote rural clinic. Rather perversely, Astra now insists on bringing Nora, who loyally agrees.

Soviet Milk
should be required viewing for all young socialists, because it shows how much the Soviet system was at odds with the values they profess to hold. Of course, there is no due process, as the prologue arrest of Astra’s father vividly illustrates. Wife-beaters are protected, but Astra is forbidden from treating, or even discussing the condition of her inter-sex friend, Jesse. As a bonus, Nora is instructed how to properly field strip infantry rifles as a member of the young pioneers.

Yet, more fundamentally,
Soviet Milk bears witness to the regime’s concerted efforts to undermine the Church and the family as the building blocks of society. Astra is a good and “faithful” atheist, as per the state’s requirements, but the worldview she is forced to adopt makes her miserable.

Maija Doveika is terrific as the adult Astra. She often behaves abominably, but it is all due to her own profound brokenness, which Doveika projects so compellingly. Ruta Kornberga is also quite amazing as Nora, who slowly starts to question her school’s indoctrination, from observing her mother and the other people around her.

If you are looking for a mother-daughter film forget
Mermaids or the last unnecessary Little Women remake. Soviet Milk has vastly greater depth. It is messy, because it is honest. Very highly recommended, Soviet Milk screens virtually at the New York Baltic Film Festival, through tomorrow (11/19).