Completed in early 2021 and set in the previous decade, Elie Grappe’s confident feature debut, “Olga,” wasn’t meant to be about Russia’s continued assault on Ukraine. It is impossible today, however, to watch the film, about a tough but vulnerable young Ukrainian gymnast in exile, through any other lens.
So much the better: it doesn’t matter now that Grappe wanted to examine the consequences of Western complacency towards the enemies of democracy. Here we are, and here is this quietly poignant film, a heartbreaking reminder of the cost of individual lives and dreams.
At the least important level, “Olga,” written by Grappe and Raphaëlle Desplechin, is a sports drama, propelled by some of the conventions of that subgenre. At 15, Olga (Anastasia Budiashkina) has the talent and determination to reach the Olympics. But like any Rocky or Rudy, she faces a steep path.
Cue the edits, but this time it’s news footage of political conflict. Olga’s mother (Tanya Mikhina) is a journalist whose investigations into the corrupt Russian-backed government put her and Olga’s life in danger. Half-Swiss, Olga fled to Switzerland to continue training. As the 2013-14 Maidan uprising engulfs his relatives in Kyiv, his family abroad is dismissive. Conflicting loyalties are tearing her apart from within.
For Olga, as for Ukraine, the stakes are clear: East or West, resignation or self-determination. Budiashkina, a Ukrainian gymnast in her acting debut, plays Olga beautifully as a guarded and stubborn teenager with the weight of exile on her shoulders, who refuses to stop but still needs her mother, who is at home. stone face on the mat but still crying into a stuffed animal. Unfortunately, we know whatever resolution awaits him, his problems are far from over.
Unclassified. Duration: 1h25. In theaters.