Review by Sean Boelman
Winner of the screenplay prize at this year’s Semaine de la Critique at the Festival de Cannes, the gymnastics drama Olga promises to have something more bubbling beneath the surface. And while some of the attempts at political commentary hit really hard, it’s otherwise a pretty conventional (albeit well-done) sports film.
The film follows a young gymnast whose dream of competing at the Olympic level is threatened when the 2014 Ukranian Revolution breaks out. It’s a film that has the potential to be very important, but it gets too weighed down with the usual coming-of-age beats of the genre to make a huge impact.
There is no doubt that the Ukranian Revolution was an important moment in history, and there are some moments which show the impact that it had on the citizens of Ukraine. However, the portion of the film following the protagonist’s journalist mother is more of an additional note to the plot than a fundamental part of it.
Perhaps the issue with this is that the film tries to pull all of this off in a runtime that is under ninety minutes, and it struggles to do so. It’s clear that the political and sports elements are both supposed to build towards the protagonist’s identity crisis, but the connection between the two isn’t built in a way that is deep enough to be fully effective.
The protagonist is about as compelling of a character as one would expect from an underdog story like this. It is always easy to get behind a young athlete, even if they aren’t written in a way that is particularly original and unique. Her arc is the same type of arc we have seen in so many films before.
Anastasia Budiashikina gives a solid performance in her leading role, with a good deal of subtlety. The fact that this is her first turn in any film is very impressive, as she shows a great deal of talent and potential. The supporting cast doesn’t have any particularly noteworthy players, but this is because their arcs aren’t the most complex in their writing.
The way in which director Elie Grappe shot the film is pretty impressive. The gymnastics sequences are well-shot in a way that creates a decent amount of investment in the training. Apart from these scenes, the film isn’t especially flashy, but that’s fitting given that the intention is for this to be more of a character piece.
Olga doesn’t quite meet all of its ambitious goals, but it’s effective and enjoyable for what it is. Those looking for a solidly-crafted sports drama will be satisfied by this mostly well-done entry into the drama.
Olga screened at the Cannes Film Festival, which ran from July 7-17.