Review: Olga

Written and directed by Elie Grappe, co-written by Raphaëlle Desplechin, a 15-year-old Ukrainian gymnast, training for the European Championship, who is forced to move to Switzerland from her home in Kyiv during the Euromaidan protests. Starring: Anastasiia Budiashkina, Sabrina Rubtsova, Caterina Barloggio, Théa Brogli and Jérôme Martin.

Combining a time of conflict with the intense world of gymnastics was a brilliant move to truly drive home the tension and risk. There also probably couldn’t be a better time to watch this film to really be hit by its message. Viewing the events through the eyes of a 15-year-old was another choice that really enhances the emotions and fears at work in this story. The harsh reality gives this teenage narrative a more adult, serious tone, highlighting the poignant themes but there’s still enough additions to not let us forget Olga’s (Budiashkina) youth. The pacing is a little bit slow but it’s filled with pressure and angst which keep driving it forward.

Visually it matches that tone exceptionally well, it holds a genuine sincerity and weight. We may only get the briefest of glimpses into the reality of the Euromaidan protests but with Elie Grappe’s directorial style, it’s more than enough to solidly establish the dire consequences and corruption. The cinematography has a great variety, mixing between a brighter palette amongst the gymnastics and a darker one when dealing with the larger emotions. One of the most successful things that Olga achieves is framing this conflict with an understanding and accessible eye, you don’t need to be aware of Ukrainian politics for it to land, although now you’ll likely have a touch more knowledge.

Anastasiia Budiashkina is uniquely qualified to lead this story, having actually been a member of the national gymnastics team in Ukraine. Having that insider knowledge clearly helped as she’s terrific at capturing the unenviable pressure and expectation placed upon Olga. She beautifully portrays the difficulty dealing with such gigantic, heavy issues as such a young age, and trying to create a separation between that and her daily life and future goals. It’s a performance that’s absolutely full of teenage angst and holds the classic transference of anger and frustration onto other elements and adversarial people in her life. The rest of the ensemble all feed well into the different aspects of this story but unsurprisingly, given the title, Olga is the key piece who brings everything together. She’s dealing with a very specific situation but presents it in an utterly relatable manner.

Olga mixes the high pressure world of gymnastics with real-world conflict, creating a tense, sincere and moving story. Anastasiia Budiashkina leads with all the typical teenage angst and frustrations mixed with fear and building anxieties for her country and family’s fate. It strikes an even louder chord in the current crisis, hitting poignant notes throughout. Elie Grappe’s direction, joined with Lucie Baudinaud’s cinematography, captures both the youth and the weight of this story.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Fundraising screenings of Olga in support of Ukraine will be held nationwide from 18 March – For more information visit ukcsu.co.uk

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