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Film Review: Olga (Winner of the Sichtwechsel Filmpreis)
by Pat Frickey

Elie Grappe, France | Switzerland |Ukraine 2021

Fifteen-year-old girls don’t come much tougher than Olga (Anastasia Budiashkina). Her adolescent passion is not for partying, alcohol, or wild boys: it’s for gymnastics. Olga is the rising star on her girls’ gymnastics team in Kiev, Ukraine. Her teammates admiringly dub her “the robot” as nothing can deter her from her obsession to perfect the Jaeger on uneven bars. With Olga as their leader, they strive to compete in the upcoming 2013 European championships. Life is good except that Olga’s single mother Ilona (Tanya Mikhina) doesn’t always have much time for her. She follows her own driving passion as a political journalist reporting on increasing Russian interference in the country. Ilona’s passion proves to be more hazardous than her daughter’s. She narrowly escapes an assassination attempt by Yanukovych’s henchmen with Olga seated right beside her in her car.

Scene change: Olga has been whisked away to Magglingen where Swiss Olympic teams train. How fortuitous that her deceased father was Swiss, and how eerily easy it is for her to denounce her birth country and join the Swiss gymnast team. Her French is just fundamental, and some of her new teammates turn out to be mean girls. On TV she watches press footage of the Euromaidan protests under the brutal rule of Yanukovych as revolution is brewing. Is her mother safe? Olga blocks everything out, doggedly training at all hours for the upcoming championships. Stoic, sullen, and defiant, this fifteen-year-old athletic talent seems to be on the path to win an Olympic gold medal.

French director Grappe’s using real-life gymnasts with Anastasia Budiashkina in the lead was a brilliant choice. OLGA is much more than a widely- promoted coming-of-age movie. The audience sits captivated on the edge of their seats rooting for Olga, come what may, in this moving, authentic, and raw film.

The Sichtwechsel Filmpreis honors directors who make films outside their own countries.