Olga film review: a Ukrainian gymnast abandons her country
Former gymnast Anastasiia Budiashkina stars in Elie Grappe’s ‘terrific, timely’ feature debut
In this “terrific, timely” feature debut from French film-maker Elie Grappe, former gymnast Anastasiia Budiashkina plays Olga – a rising star of Ukrainian gymnastics whose “shot for glory coincides with the 2014 Ukrainian revolution”, said Wendy Ide in The Observer. Her mother, a journalist, is a critic of President Yanukovych, and her work puts them both in immediate danger – as we learn in a “superb, visceral scene” in which her car is rammed as she drives through the streets. With the protests in Kyiv intensifying, Olga escapes to a training camp in Switzerland, her late father’s home country. She wins the chance to represent Switzerland in the upcoming European Championships, but there are rivalries in the camp, and Olga does not feel at home in Switzerland. She is distressed by the scenes emerging from Kyiv, and is “consumed with simmering self-hatred”, said Kevin Maher in The Times, “for abandoning her country” and her family. “It’s the kind of all-consuming revulsion that can only be purged by a scene of self-flagellation, late at night in the gym.”
It’s often said, as if this were an “unqualified positive”, that sports films are not really about swimming, golf, gymnastics or whatever, said Donald Clarke in The Irish Times. And in this case, the actors work hard “at creating a drama about the tensions of close collaboration and the temptation to give in to professional or political pressures”. I, however, rather wished the film had been a bit more engaged with the “technical rigours” of Olga’s sport. Still, its makers probably did not set out to teach us about gymnastics, and as a personal drama, it works very nicely.