The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - OLGA | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - OLGA

olga review
When her mother is targeted by the Ukrainian authorities, a gymnast is sent to train for the Swiss national team.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Elie Grappe

Starring: Anastasia Budiashkina, Sabrina Rubtsova, Caterina Barloggio, Théa Brogli, Stéphanie Chuat

olga poster

Some sports don’t translate well to cinema. Football and tennis require a rigid adherence to the 180 degree rule so as not to confuse the audience. Gymnastics might be the sport that lends itself most easily to a cinematic translation. Gymnasts don’t simply move in one direction, rather they transition to keep things interesting, to further impress us with their movements. This is what directors and editors do. With Olga, director Elie Grappe and editor Suzana Pedro give us the most cinematic depiction of gymnastics since Spike Jonze directed Sofia Coppola in his video for the Chemical Brothers' 'Elektrobank'.

olga review

Olga opens with a sequence worthy of any Hollywood action movie. Our titular 15-year-old protagonist (Anastasia Budiashkina) is being driven home from gymnastics practice by her mother when their car is repeatedly slammed into by another vehicle, depicted only by its blazing headlights. The pair manage to evade their attackers and escape. Olga's mother is a journalist who has written disparagingly about her government in Ukraine, and assumes this to be a deliberate attack on her life by the regime. As Olga's deceased father was Swiss, her mother takes the opportunity to pack off her daughter to the safety of Switzerland, where she will try out for a place on the Swiss national gymnastics team.

To do so will require Olga to meet various sporting and social challenges. The biggest challenge she faces is whether or not to renounce her Ukrainian citizenship and declare herself solely Swiss (Ukraine doesn't allow for dual nationality). Olga's patriotic zeal is stoked when she finds herself isolated and bullied by some of her new Swiss teammates. Her homesickness is increased when the 2014 Maidan protests break out and her mother is badly beaten by the police. Can Olga put aside her personal turmoil, and that of her homeland, to fulfil her dream, albeit by competing for a country she has no real kinship with?

olga review

Were Olga made by, say Ken Loach, it would likely feature a lot of people sitting around and arguing about politics. With his feature debut, Grappe has taken a far more cinematic approach. The politics of Ukraine are considerably complex, especially for a 15-year-old, and it's through those young eyes that we view that nation's turmoil. When asked why she believes in the revolution, Olga can't give any answer other than to back her mother's beliefs. She's simply a teenager trying to make the most of her life, and at this point politics are for adults to squabble over. Olga just hopes her mother will be okay.

It's in the gymnastics scenes that Grappe really gets to show off his impressive filmmaking chops. He uses his young heroine's physicality rather than her words to express her state of mind, as Olga hurls herself into her sport with a dangerous commitment. Olga's reluctance to drop her heritage is embodied by her insistence on performing a particular move she learned back home in defiance of her instructors.

olga review

Much of the movie focusses on Olga training rather than competing, yet the stakes never seem any lower. Watching Olga battling the bars late at night in an empty gymnasium is as thrilling as the finale of any boxing movie, thanks to the combination of Budiashkina's physicality, Grappe's direction and Pedro's editing. All three combine to use a body in motion to express the frustration of young people growing up in an uncertain Eastern Europe. Add a few tunes and it might be the best musical of the year.

Olga is in UK/ROI cinemas from June 3rd.

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