Cinema: “Olga”, the exile and heartbreak of a young Ukrainian gymnast

(AFP) – “Olga”, a first feature film which will be released in theaters on Wednesday, films with great mastery a young Ukrainian gymnast torn between her athletic dreams and the course of history which is accelerating, while the revolution breaks out.

The film, directed by Frenchman Elie Grappe, 27, won the SACD prize at the Critics’ Week at the last Cannes film festival, and was selected to represent Switzerland in the Oscar race.

The plot is set in the early days of the Maidan revolution, a popular movement that will lead to the overthrow of the pro-Russian authoritarian regime of Viktor Yanukovych, followed by the annexation of Crimea by Moscow.

From the first shots, the tone is set: the young Olga (Nastya Budiashkina), a high-level gymnast, member of the Ukrainian national team, is in the car with her mother, when the latter, an opposition journalist, is victim of an assassination attempt.

To preserve Olga, the decision is made to send her to Switzerland, the country where her father comes from. She joined there, in the heart of the Alps, an elite training center where she will try to integrate the national team.

But integration into this already very competitive environment will not be easy for the teenager: she must learn French, and not be destabilized by the news from Maidan, the place where the revolution is taking place in Kiev and where her mother and her friends, back home, risk their skins for freedom. Geopolitics invites itself everywhere, as when a Ukrainian coach is debauched by Russia under the dumbfounded eyes of Olga.

“The film deals with exile, Olga is torn between several loyalties. She is looking for how to reconcile her internal desire and the course of history”, underlines to AFP the director Elie Grappe, who started working in 2016, after leaving film school, on this feature film.

With no personal connection to Ukraine, he spent time in this country preparing his film, plunging into the post-revolutionary turmoil and surrounding himself with intellectuals to build the screenplay, co-written by screenwriter Raphaëlle Desplechin.

The film also shines through the performance of actresses, professional gymnasts but novices in front of the camera, and in particular by the play of Nastya Budiashkina, the main actress, to whom the non-Russian-speaking director has left a large part of improvisation. “Its intensity is the heart of the film’s emotion,” he said.