With Olga, director Elie Grappe hasn’t quite delivered his magnum opus, which is perfectly understandable, since it’s his debut narrative feature. What he has brought is a promise of greatness to come, vouched for by his film’s ability to tell a story that feels authoritatively comprehensive, with an authentic, emotionally satisfying resolution, all in a decidedly brisk one hour and 25 minutes.
The titular Olga (Anastasia Budiashkina) is a 15-year-old Ukranian gymnast, on track to represent her country at the upcoming European championships. It’s 2013, and the Euromaidan protests are a gathering storm, soon to explode throughout Kiev, as the people rise up against the loathed president Viktor Yanukovych in what would become known as the Revolution of Dignity. Olga’s mother is a journalist, which puts both her and her daughter in the firing line. Relocating to Switzerland (courtesy of her deceased father’s citizenship), Olga begins to train for their national team, as her home crumbles on the other side of the continent.
Despite a few thrillingly abrupt flashes of action, the film’s narrative issues are largely confined to the first act. It’s all a bit too placid, especially given the circumstances that brought the young gymnast to Switzerland. Once Olga’s attention pivots back to the situation in her home country, the film’s scope is organically widened, and is all the more gratifying for it. Grappe wisely utilises actual press footage from the Euromaidan protests, allowing his film to be strategically harrowing in places.
As Olga, Budiashkina aptly demonstrates the single-minded moodiness of the average teenager. At times, she’s a bit too bluntly sullen, and her character’s emotional arc is perhaps a little bit too neat and tidy. Torn between her own ambitions and desires and the turmoil of her homeland, Olga’s growth as a character is accelerated when her priorities are inevitably reordered. Budiashkina is actually a reserve member of the Ukranian nation gymnastics team, meaning she’s able to do her own (downright impressive) flips around the uneven bars.
Imperfect though undeniably engrossing, Olga marks Elie Grappe as someone to watch.
Olga does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch a clip from Olga here: