Já, Olga HepnarováBerlin Film Festival 2016
Já, Olga Hepnarová is based on the true crimes of the titular character who, in July 1973 at the age of 15, drove a truck into a tram stop in Prague, leaving eight victims. She was the last woman executed in Czechoslovakia. The film begins with her early struggle in her family home when she still has an air of innocence about her. Once she has been through the grinder of children’s psychiatric hospital, she breaks free from her family, cuts her hair into a boyish bob, starts smoking and finds a job in a garage.
This anti-coming-of-age story follows the precocious teenager as she alternates between self-imposed exile and experiments with unconventional relationships. Olga (portrayed in a breakthrough performance from Michalina Olszanska) undergoes a transformation in the second act as she adopts a masculine personality. Her stiff gait, her mechanic’s uniform and her clumsy cigarette smoking attract a couple of equally clumsy lesbian relationships that offer rare moments of levity and exuberance in an otherwise bleak world. The black-and-white aesthetic is as flat and unforgiving as the protagonist’s point of view. Directors Petre Kazda and Tomas Weinreb are relentless, trapping the audience in Olga’s subjective experience, yet there is very little introspection or character development after the initial tomboy evolution. Instead, we have long, silent (the film has no soundtrack) shots of her smoking in bed or by the window: a cliche of rebellion, a wannabe Anna Karenina. It is only when she pens her suicide note that she will send to the newspapers before committing the horrible act that we get a real sense of her world view.
True crime is a dubious genre as most filmmakers tend to lean towards sensationalising the facts and embellishing the truth. Kazda and Weinreb reject that instinct and veer towards trying to put us in Olga’s shoes, with bare-bones neo-reaslism. The slow pace of the film drags us further into her downward spiral as she destroys her last remaining personal relationships. When she finally snaps and decides to go on the rampage, we witness the crime in the startling clarity of her perspective as the onlookers rush to the van to look at the perpetrator: they are looking at us, the audience. Já, Olga Hepnarová is a disturbing and challenging character study that is not for the faint of heart. It asks the question if we all go through rebellions as teenagers (smoking, existentialism, running away), are we all capable of such acts of violence?
Já, Olga Hepnarová does not yet have an official UK release date.
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Watch the trailer for Ja, Olga Hepnarova here: